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After being intimidated by a Friends Hospital employee on the second day of my protest, I sent the following email to the ACLU of Philadelphia:
Hi, my name is Godly Mathew. I am holding a 100 day (an hour or more per day) protest outside a psychiatric facility (Friends Hospital near Roosevelt Blvd and Adams Ave.) where I was abused four years ago during an involuntary commitment (302). My protest consists of simply holding a sign that reads 'I was abused at Friends Hospital'. I am not on private property or breaking any laws. I have no intention of engaging in civil disobedience during this protest or organizing a mass of people.
I believe that protests are covered under 'Freedom of Speech' and since I am not organizing a public protest at this time, I should not need any special permits. Yesterday (May 10, 2009) was my second day and a security guard from the hospital drove up in a van and observed me for 20 minutes or so. He then got out and walked towards me until he was several yards away. He shouted at me "What do you think you're doing man?". He was obviously yelling in a very angry tone and I did not want to get into a interaction with him so my intention was to simply ignore him. He then threatened to call the police and took his cell phone out. At that point, I yelled back "You're calling the police?" and took my cell out and pretended to call the police myself. Of course I did not call the police and I doubt that he did either. Anyway, I felt quite shaken by the incident and I left the protest site soon.
My question is whether I'm in violation of any laws and whether I should be concerned about a repeat incident. I also want to know what recourse I have if I continue to be harassed by the hospital staff. I am still recovering from the emotional scars from my former abuse and even a trivial incident like today's is not so trivially endured. I want to speak out against the abuse that I was subjected to and protesting is an important part of my recovery as well as my rights under the Constitution. I also believe that the right to hold protests and express dissent are a fundamental part of a robust and healthy democracy. Please provide me with some guidance as to how I may safely proceed and courses of actions I could take to prevent further harassment from the hospital.
Thanks in advance for your help,
They sent me a short reply requesting me to give them a call. They said that from the sound of it, I was well within my rights but they do not give legal advice by email without further information. So I called and left a message. Some one called me back the next week and got some more information about me. I also asked if they can help in lauching an investiation into my allegations of abuse...
Finally, I got a letter from the ACLU describing the full scope of my rights as a protester:
Click here to view the letter.
Click here to view the accompanying Bessey Agreement
It appears that not only do I have the right to protest where I am protesting, I can even be on the side walk right in front of Friends Hospital. Just goes to show the importance of knowing your rights is key to defending them...