In this moment of social unrest and sustained protest in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, it’s important to remember the text and purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Simply put, protesters have the right to protest, demonstrators have the right to demonstrate, we all have the right to speak out, and we all have the right to gather and make demands of our government. It is significant that this is the very first specific right of the people, rather than of the government, that the Framers enumerated in the Constitution. These rights, above all else, define our freedom from tyranny.

So while our laws prohibit the destruction of property and harming of others, the government has the obligation to address any illegal behavior without denying our citizens their constitutional right to assemble and to freely and peaceably express themselves.

One of the principles of the League of Women Voters is to remind people that democracy is not a spectator sport. The demonstrators are putting that into action, as are those who stand up for their right to do so.

We urge our government to adhere to the First Amendment by honoring both their obligation to protect the right to protest and to protect the community.

Julie Sorensen, Oneonta,

and Liane Hirabayashi, Milford

Sorensen and Hirabayashi write on behalf of The League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area.

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