The right of the people to gather peaceably and to associate with anyone they desire.
The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law that limits “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” but the Constitution does not mention freedom of association. Freedom of association has been inferred, however, from freedom of assembly, and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, of which the First Amendment is part, have been inferred to apply to the states. Therefore, subject to the interpretation of the Supreme Court, all laws, whether state or federal, that unduly restrict freedom of assembly and association are unconstitutional.
Demonstrators attempting to exercise their right to assemble in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
The only explicit restriction on these freedoms is the word “peaceably”; mobs and other groups intent on violence or destruction of property lie outside constitutional protection, as do picketers who physically oppose those who wish to cross picket lines. The freedoms also impinge on trespassing laws that protect the rights of private owners of property, resulting in issues of legal interpretation. Additionally, the Court has upheld laws requiring the licensing of parades and other large assemblies that, although taking place in public areas, may disrupt traffic or otherwise place an undue burden on local authorities. The Court has made further distinctions between public and private places. Quasi-public or quasi-private places, such as college campuses and privately owned areas open to the general public, have been defined regarding the limitations of the right of assembly. How such limitations are to be interpreted and applied have been and continue to be the subject of litigation that is often controversial.
The general standard that the Court applies to the question of the right of assembly is the same that it applies to speech: time, place, and manner
Freedom of association in particular, political association, including membership in communist organizations has been examined in similar ways. In such cases as Yates v. United States
Private organizations that discriminate according to sex, race, or other criteria have defended themselves on First Amendment grounds, with varying degrees of success. In general, the Court has placed greater emphasis on laws against discrimination than on the right to association, especially regarding large associations that have few restrictions on membership. In Roberts v. United States Jaycees
A landmark case touching on freedom of association is Griswold v. Connecticut
Abortion clinic protests, specifically the tactics employed by those opposed to abortion to prevent entrance to clinics, have generated various cases touching on freedom of assembly. In Bray v. Alexandria Clinic
Abernathy, M. Glenn. The Right of Assembly and Association. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981. Bresler, Robert J. Freedom of Association: Rights and Liberties Under the Law. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004. Gutmann, Amy, ed. Freedom of Association. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. Murphy, Paul L. Rights of Assembly, Petition, Arms, and Just Compensation. New York: Garland, 1990. Rohde, Stephen F. Freedom of Assembly. New York: Facts On File, 2005. Shiffrin, Steven H., and Jesse H. Choper. The First Amendment: Cases, Comments, Questions. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1996.
Adderley v. Florida
Cox v. New Hampshire
Griswold v. Connecticut
Hague v. Congress of Industrial Organizations
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama
States’ rights and state sovereignty
Time, place, and manner regulations
Yates v. United States