Right to Assemble


The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides that “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This provision applies to state government entities through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though neither the federal Constitution nor any state constitution specifically protects rights of association, the United States Supreme Court and other courts have extended assembly rights to include rights of association.

Rights to free speech and assembly are not absolute under the relevant jurisprudence. Government entities may restrict many types of speech without violating First Amendment protections. Many of the Supreme Court’s First Amendment cases focus on two main questions: first, whether the restriction on speech was based on the content of the speech; and second, whether the speech was given in a traditional public forum or elsewhere. Some questions focus exclusively on the actual speech, rather than on aspects of the right to assembly. Other questions contain aspects of both the right to free speech and the right to assemble peacefully. Cases addressing free speech plus some conduct in the exercise of assembly rights often pose complex questions, since either the speech rights or the assembly rights may not protect the parties in these types of cases.

Since the courts take into consideration such a variety of factors when determining whether a particular speech or whether a particular assemblage is protected by the First Amendment, it is difficult to provide a concise definition of rights of assembly. Even in areas where a government entity may restrict speech or assembly rights, courts are more likely to find a violation of the First Amendment if speech or assembly is banned completely. Some restrictions merely involve the application for a permit or license to assemble, such as obtaining a license to hold a pa-rade in a public street. Other time, place, and/or manner restrictions may also apply.