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Dissent and protest are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. These rights are fundamental to our democracy. They cannot be sacrificed even, and perhaps particularly, in times of public emergency.

On April 14, 2020, the police department in Raleigh, North Carolina, tweeted, “Protesting is a non-essential activity,” as an explanation for breaking up a protest. As organizations dedicated to protecting civil liberties and the First Amendment, the undersigned groups are deeply disturbed by this statement and other remarks and actions by public officials suggesting that peaceful protest can be outlawed during a national crisis. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used to justify the suspension of First Amendment rights. People must be free to express disagreement with government decisions, even when it involves criticism of essential public health measures.

Upholding First Amendment rights need not be at odds with the government’s authority and obligation to protect public health and safety. The emergency decrees that call for social distancing, wearing of face covers or masks, and limits on the size of public assemblies can regulate the manner in which protests occur. However, regulations should be narrowly tailored to what is necessary to protect public health and cannot be so broad that they ban protest completely or so poorly drafted that they restrict peaceful demonstrations.

Most protesters have been exercising their constitutional rights without threatening the health of their fellow citizens: wearing masks and standing six-feet apart outside hospitals and other places of business to protest inadequate safety precautions; participating in car demonstrations in Arizona, California and Michigan, and launching digital campaigns.

Public officials in Ohio and Michigan have included explicit protections for First Amendment rights in their emergency decrees. Some states have also acknowledged information-gathering and reporting as “essential services.”

We urge all public officials to recognize their obligation to defend First Amendment rights while they protect public safety. These rights are critically important during uncertain times like these.


National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers for Free Expression
Americans for Prosperity Foundation
Association of American Publishers
The Authors Guild
The Buckeye Institute
Caesar Rodney Institute
The Center for Media and Democracy
Civil Liberties Defense Center
Coalition for Policy Reform
The DKT Liberty Project
Defending Rights & Dissent
First Amendment Lawyers Association
Free Speech Coalition
Freedom Forum
Freedom Foundation of Minnesota
Freedom to Read Foundation
Idaho Freedom Foundation
Institute for Free Speech
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Mississippi Center for Public Policy
PEN America
PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee
Restore The Fourth, Inc.
United for Missouri
Woodhull Freedom Foundation
David A. Schulz, Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School *institution listed for identification purposes only

Kathi Badertscher, PhD

Director of Graduate Programs at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
Kathi Badertscher, PhD, is Director of Graduate Programs at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Dr. Badertscher teaches a variety of BA, MA, and doctoral courses, including Applying Ethics in Philanthropy and History of Philanthropy. She has participated in several Teaching Vonnegut workshops and is a member of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. Dr. Badertscher has been a guest speaker on ethics in philanthropy, including at the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners – Indianapolis Council; Association of Fundraising Professionals – Indiana Chapter; and Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai University, Tianjin, China. In 2019 she received IUPUI Office for Women, Women’s Leadership Award for Newcomer Faculty. In 2019 and 2020 she received the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Graduate Teaching Award.
Dr. Badertscher’s publications include “Fundraising for Advocacy and Social Change,” co-authored with Shariq Siddiqui in Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, 5th ed., 2022; “Insulin at 100: Indianapolis, Toronto, Woods Hole, and the ‘Insulin Road,’ co-authored with Christopher Rutty, Pharmacy in History (2020); and three articles in the Indiana Magazine of History: “A New Wishard Is on the Way,” “Evaline Holliday and the Work of Community Service,” and “Social Networks in Indianapolis during the Progressive Era.” Her chapters on social welfare history will appear in three upcoming edited volumes on the history of philanthropy, including “The Legacy of Edna Henry and Her Contributions to the IU School of Social Work,” Women at Indiana University: Views of the Past and the Future, edited by Andrea Walton, Indiana University Press, 2022 (forthcoming). Dr. Badertscher is also the Philanthropy and Nonprofits Consulting Editor for the forthcoming Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, edited by David J. Bodenhamer and Elizabeth Van Allen, Indiana University Press, 2021. Dr. Badertscher is an active volunteer in the Indianapolis community. At present, she is a Coburn Place Safe Haven Board Member and a Children’s Bureau/Families First Brand and Marketing Advisor. Dr. Badertscher holds the MA in History from Indiana University and the MA and PhD in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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