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In April, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed HB 1674, which puts a chill on peaceful protest across the state. First Amendment rights groups nationwide pushed back against the bill, and some groups even planned to take legal action once the bill became law.
The Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP is suing two top law enforcement officials over the new state law the group says will limit protests and have a chilling effect on free speech.
HB 1674 protects drivers who run over protestors from legal consequences. Republicans claim the law will only apply to violent protestors, but the language of the bill is especially vague. According to the bill, any driver who claims they felt threatened could avoid prosecution.
Civil rights groups push back against “anti-protest” law
The law also enacts fines for organizations “found to be a conspirator” with someone who violates any state law pertaining to riots and unlawful assemblies. HB 1674’s language makes it so that a group of three people protesting in the street could be considered a riot.
The lawsuit argues that the NAACP could be charged as a conspirator even if the organization does not conspire to commit any riot-related crimes. The vagueness of HB 1674 could result in the NAACP being charged millions of dollars in fines should anyone break state law at demonstrations organized by the group.
“Through its unconstitutionally vague and over-broad terms, HB 1674 subjects organizations to devastating fines because of their association with third parties who commit unlawful acts by building upon the foundation of Oklahoma’s existing criminal-conspiracy statutes, which itself is unconstitutionally vague and over-broad,” the lawsuit states.
Many advocacy groups view HB 1674 as an attack on protestors who called on elected leaders to address issues of systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd.
“The ACLU of Oklahoma has long fought to protect the First Amendment right to assemble and hold those in power accountable through protest. With the stroke of a pen, Governor Stitt has decided to stand on the wrong side of history and threaten one of the most fundamental rights of our democracy,” said Nicole McAfee, former director of policy and advocacy for ACLU-OK.
“Throughout the 58th Oklahoma Legislative Session, we have seen politicians at the Oklahoma Capitol push agendas that chill free speech and infringe on the rights of protesters. And we know this is just the beginning in a lengthy list of legislation aimed at communities who took to the streets to make their voices heard in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.”
Arguing for HB 1674 to be stricken down, the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP says it violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.