In the US, 1st Amendment includes not only free speech, but also freedom of assembly.

A civil rights attorney working for Harvard Law School posted the contrasting two-scene video below, showing apparently different attitudes towards public gatherings with political elements.


In the left panel, Columbus Ohio police disperses a crowd of college protestors, apparently gathering to support Palestinian rights. In the right panel, the same police force stands by peacefully, as a gathering of white supremacists flies the swastika flag, signaling tolerance in the name of 1st amendment rights.

Is the apparent change in attitude a result of deliberate shifts to policy, in the interpretation of the 1st amendment?

  • Universities have been in a lot of heat for allowing antisemitism on campus, so likely there was. The 1st amendment doesn't have much to do with this.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 21:04
  • 6
    A cynical person might point out that some police forces have a tendency to right-wing associations, so might perceive the far-right protesters as less of a threat. But does this reflect a change in jurisprudence? Unlikely. Police officers have often violated the law on civil rights, so one shouldn't necessarily expect their actions to reflect legality. Or rather, one should expect it, but they often do not. (The general legal framework, which probably has not changed, is that both protests are completely legal in public spaces, and at the discretion of the property owner in private ones).
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 21:08
  • 1
    @Obie2.0 arrests are usually not for "protesting", and the pro-Palestinian protests do tend to be more violent.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 21:49
  • 1
    @littleadv- No, they are for violating vague and arguably unconstitutional city ordinances that allow police to engage in crowd control at their discretion. As for pro-Palestinian protests being generally more violent than far-right ones—doubtful.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 21:51
  • 1
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica how's the behavior at Berkley different from the Jan 6th protests? The latter ended with hundreds of people sentenced to long prison sentences (and rightly so). The former? Nothing so far, barely a condemnation from some.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


Is the apparent change in attitude a result of deliberate shifts to policy, in the interpretation of the 1st amendment?

Not really.

The First Amendment law is content neutral. The primary exception in a protest case is that there can be "time, place, and manner" exceptions.

Different conduct relative to time, place, and manner rules, rather than differing content, is likely to be behind the differences in enforcement approaches.

If anything, the panelist making the presentation is trying to sow cynicism and distrust by deliberately (or subconsciously) confounding the examples in a way that conceals the real causes behind the different approaches taken.

  • 2
    Time, place and manner restrictions are definitely a (controversial) part of US law around freedom of speech, but I think it is questionable whether they are being applied correctly here. They need to be content-neutral and serve a compelling governmental interest, to start with, and be narrowly tailored. And can police officers just innovate such restrictions when they want, or does there have to be a specific government policy first ("narrowly tailored" would seem to impose a limit there).
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:22
  • @Obie2.0 these are the questions to resolve in court, not in a hand-to-hand combat with police officers.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:38
  • @littleadv - Really? I admit, I do believe that all policy matters should be resolved in a cinematic showdown at high noon, because this town isn't large enough for the both of us, partner, but I don't quite see how you gathered than from my comment.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:41
  • @Obie2.0 my point is that the discussion about what an individual police officer does or what ordinances were passed is irrelevant to the question of dispersal of protests. If the court didn't rule the dispersal was unjust - then it wasn't, and your claiming otherwise is irrelevant.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:46
  • @Obie2.0 "does there have to be a specific government policy first" generally there does have to be a specific government policy first.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 26 at 23:32

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