Within the text of Oklahoma House Bill 1674 is a curious addition: potential fines and liability for organizations that provide any type of support to peaceful protests. HB 1674 shows that Oklahoma legislators will do anything to stop people from legally exercising their right to protest. Republicans are threatening to harm financially-strapped non-profits during a pandemic.
While individuals who attend peaceful protests can be fined up to $5,000, according to the new bill, the fine for organizations who “conspire” to support those who attend peaceful protests is up to $50,000. This aspect of HB 1674, of course, follows the first part of the bill. That section states that drivers who harm peaceful protestors are absolved from criminal or civil liability. Peaceful protestors, on the other hand, face fines and jail time.
With this bill, Oklahoma legislators are taking a strong stand against the First Amendment, and the right to peacefully assemble. While the ACLU has on its website a list of protestors’ rights, protection for organizations is absent from the discussion.
Bill would intimidate and criminalize peaceful protesters
Many worry this bill is state government overreach. It allows law enforcement’s tentacles to stretch into the non-profit and private sectors. Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, called the bill “bad,” stating the legislation is “an extension of the police fear defense,” a bill used to intimidate those who would express their legal right to peacefully assemble.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow co-authored the bill. He disagrees with the argument HB 1674 that impedes on the right to peacefully protest. “I fully agree that peaceful protests are a right of the people, and I condone anyone who wants to protest peacefully. Once anyone impedes on the freedoms of others, however, the protest is no longer peaceful.” He did not expand on his statement with regards to non-profit and private organizations.
Rep. McDugle introduced HB 1674 to the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Feb 1; it passed the House by a vote of 79-18 and now awaits a hearing in the Senate. Senate Democrats have vowed to stop the bill, but lack the numbers to block it from being signed into law.
The Black Wall Street Times will continue updating our readers on the state of HB 1674.