The right to join with friends and neighbors in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

That’s why we’re taking South Dakota to court.

The U.S. District Court in Rapid City will hear the ACLU’s case that challenges three South Dakota laws, including the newly-enacted “Riot Boosting” Act, that threaten activists who encourage or organize protests – particularly protests of the Keystone XL pipeline – with fines, civil liabilities, and/or criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison.            

In the case, Dakota Rural Action v. Noem, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Dakota represent four organizations: Dakota Rural Action, Indigenous Environmental Network, NDN Collective and the Sierra Club; and two individuals: Nick Tilsen with NDN Collective and Dallas Goldtooth with Indigenous Environmental Network. All are planning to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and/or encourage others to do so.

Because the challenged laws expose the plaintiffs to immediate and irreparable harm, the plaintiffs are asking the court to block the state from enforcing the anti-protest laws as the case goes forward. The case asserts that the laws violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by chilling protected speech and failing to adequately describe what speech or conduct could subject protesters and organizations to criminal and civil penalties.

The Riot Boosting Act, which became law this in March, gives the state the authority to sue any individual or organization for “riot-boosting,” or encouraging a protest where acts of violence occur. The law mirrors two existing state laws that criminalize similar speech. Under the laws, individuals and organizations — regardless of their intent to incite violence, the likelihood that their speech or conduct would result in violence, or the imminence of the intended violence —could be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.  Moreover, the laws do not clearly describe what conduct or speech is considered “riot-boosting” or “encouraging” a riot. The ACLU argues that such vague and broad language invites arbitrary enforcement, will chill protected speech, and will result in indiscriminate targeting of peaceful organizers.

No one should have to fear the government coming after them for exercising their First Amendment rights. We hope the court will recognize this effort to undermine South Dakotans’ right to peaceful assembly and free speech for what it is and reject these dangerous laws.

The hearing will take place at 3 p.m., Wednesday, June 12, at the Andrew W. Bogue Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Room 301, 515 Ninth St., Rapid City.