OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A group of new bills are drawing criticism free speech advocates say would severely limit Oklahomans’ rights under the First Amendment.
“They only serve to make sure that fewer people want to raise their voices in Oklahoma using protests and they very likely ensure that more people go to jail for protest related incidents,” said Abby Henderson, a native Oklahoman and counsel at the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.
She co-wrote a piece drawing attention to the bills that are being rolled out.
Laws that would make it a felony to protest in public streets, or one that would require that public employees, like teachers, who take part in “unlawful assembly” be fired.
“They could lose their jobs and they would be barred from working at any state agency after their conviction,” Henderson said.
But lawmakers who proposed the bills denied they’re limiting free speech.
“By putting this in the section of law that deals specifically with riots, I feel like we’ve definitely narrowed it down. So, I don’t see where it would be a first amendment violation,” said House Rep. Kevin West, R-Oklahoma City.
West wrote a bill that would clear a driver of criminal charges if they injure or kill someone “while fleeing a riot.” He said it’s protection for drivers who are afraid for their safety.
“I think the language is very clear and very concise, but if there’s a way that I can strengthen the language some, I would be more than happy to do that,” West said.
Henderson pointed out that this is one of three laws filed with similar language and language that, she argued, encourages and protects dangerous behavior.