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We Support the Right to Protest During the Pandemic

The global pandemic has impacted many areas of our lives, and now it has been cited as justification for depriving individuals of their First Amendment right to protest. That’s why, on April 16, the Authors Guild signed on to a letter arguing that such fundamental rights “cannot be sacrificed even, and perhaps particularly, in times of public emergency.”

The letter was prompted by the Raleigh Police Department ending a protest against the governor’s March 10 executive order effectively shutting down the state. On April 14, the police department instructed protesters who wanted to #ReOpenNC to disperse, on the grounds that they were violating the governor’s order; most of the protesters were reportedly in their cars, abiding by the state’s social distancing guidelines. When asked on Twitter what part of the executive order had been violated, @RaleighPolice tweeted “Protesting is a non-essential activity.”

The rights of free speech, protest, and association are at the very core of our civil liberties. Without the right of free expression, there is no way to “speak truth to power” or to keep governments and elected officials accountable to the public they serve. As tragic as the world’s current situation is, and as great as the need is to protect public health and safety, it should not be used to justify depriving people of their constitutional rights—at least not without the careful type of balancing needed when such critical rights are at stake.