“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.” – First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
This Toolkit provides basic information about how to protest lawfully.
The First Amendment protects speech (“expressive activity”) where the main goal is expression, dissemination, or communication of political, religious, philosophical, or ideological opinions, views, or ideas and where no fee is charged to participate or attend.
There is no single definition of “expressive activity,” but it’s often something like this: “Expressive activity” means speech or conduct, the principal object of which is the expression, dissemination, or communication by verbal, visual, literary, or auditory means of political, religious, philosophical, or ideological opinions, views, or ideas. Expressive Activity includes, but is not limited to, public oratory and the distribution of literature.
The right to protest government actions publicly is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This right is not absolute. Even peaceful, non-violent protestors leading a march or waving picket signs may be subject to arrest if they trespass, harass or hinder others in their own lawful activities. If your protest involves several people, it may require a permit (which the government may not make too expensive or deny discriminatorily).
This Toolkit is designed to provide some information to help you conduct a lawful protest. To better protect yourself from arrest, consult an attorney or the government agency in charge of the location where you want to protest ahead of time. Once a protest is underway, do not harm others or put them in danger, and obey the orders of the police. Never forget that attacking a police officer, even verbally, may itself be a crime.
If you are arrested for protesting, consult with a private attorney or the Office of the Public Defender immediately. The ACLU does not handle criminal cases directly, but if your lawyer believes that you were wrongfully arrested, s/he may ask the ACLU to assist if the case raises an important constitutional issue.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This is general information, not legal advice, and the information about “City” property only applies to the City & County of Honolulu. Laws are always subject to change. This document discusses the ACLU’s understanding of what the law is; it does not mean that the ACLU necessarily agrees with the law. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
6 key things to know if you choose to protest:
- Generally, you have a right to stand or march on sidewalks without a permit, as long as you are obeying traffic signals and not blocking the sidewalk. You may be asked to move if several small groups gather and the sidewalk is blocked.
- Generally, small groups can use City parks without a permit, but getting a permit may be a good idea even if you don’t technically need one.
- If you march in the street without a permit, you risk arrest.
- If you witness or experience what you believe to be police misconduct, note officers’ badge numbers, names and physical descriptions.
- The First Amendment does not protect “civil disobedience.”
- If ordered to disperse, do so or you may be arrested.