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Liberty's Refuge or the Refuge of Scoundrels?: The Limits of the Right of Assembly


Ashutosh Avinash Bhagwat


University of California, Davis - School of Law

April 19, 2012

Washington University Law Review, Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 292

Abstract:     
This essay was written for a symposium celebrating the publication of Professor John Inazu’s book, Liberty’s Refuge The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly, held at the Washington University School of Law on March 2, 2012. Liberty’s Refuge presents a fascinating and eye-opening examination of the history of the Assembly Clause of the First Amendment, and argues in favor of the continuing significance of the assembly right. In this essay, I primarily explore an issue that Professor Inazu only touches upon lightly in Liberty’s Refuge, but which I think is likely to play a central role in future debates: the limits of the Freedom of Assembly. In particular, I ask at what point a private group becomes sufficiently threatening to the social order that it falls outside the right of assembly (and the related First Amendment right of Freedom of Association). I discuss three different types of potentially threatening assemblies: violent assemblies, which engage in or plot explicit violence; subversive assemblies, which though they do not themselves act violently, inculcate values in their members or others which might result in violence; and non-conformist assemblies which threaten the social order in ways other than outright violence. I explain how each of these types of assemblies of citizens poses challenges to the general theory of Freedom of Assembly (and indeed, to First Amendment theory generally), because such groups can simultaneously make important contributions to political dialogue and self-governance, but also threaten great social harm, including at their limits undermining the broader social cohesion which is the necessary framework within which a system of popular governance must operate. I close with some preliminary thoughts on how these competing values might be reconciled, consistent with the underlying principles of the First Amendment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: Freedom of Assembly, First Amendment, Freedom of Association, Subversion, Terrorism

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Date posted: April 19, 2012 ; Last revised: April 27, 2012

Suggested Citation

Bhagwat, Ashutosh Avinash, Liberty's Refuge or the Refuge of Scoundrels?: The Limits of the Right of Assembly (April 19, 2012). Washington University Law Review, Forthcoming; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 292. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2042789

Contact Information

Ashutosh A. Bhagwat (Contact Author)
University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )
Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
(530) 752-8687 (Phone)

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