ATLANTA – The arrest of a protester in the Capitol objecting to a gun-rights measure Friday raises questions about how troopers may have trampled on free-speech rights.
State Troopers handcuffed and arrested Kennesaw State University philosophy professor Amy Donahue for disruption of the General Assembly and obstruction of an officer. She was holding a 22-by-28-inch sign opposing legislation that the Senate later passed 37-17 that would allow students 21 years old and older to have a concealed weapon on college campuses.
The Board of Regents opposes the legislation as does Donahue’s university.
A woman accompanying Donahue said legislative officials told them holding a sign would be permissible on the Capitol floor that legislators use, but a statement from the Georgia State Patrol quoted a state law authorizing security officers “to deny entrance into or upon any such property or building of any person displaying any sign, banner, placard, poster, or similar device.”
Donahue had already been allowed entrance to the building with her poster and had even ventured to the fourth floor before her arrest on the busy third floor.
Groups regularly bring signs into the Capitol, and because the State Patrol did not argue hers was somehow a greater risk to safety, officers apparently arrested her because of what was written on her sign.
The arrest triggered an objection from a free-speech organization.
“It appears this citizen was trying to express herself, but instead was arrested. Law enforcement operated under a criminal statute, even though there seems to have been no evidence that the citizen was obstructing the hallway or any area at all, with the intent to cause disruption,” said Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “Rushed arrests in free-speech situations — particularly in such public areas as the Capitol — are very concerning given the strong First Amendment rights all legislators claim to champion.”
Kennesaw, the state’s third-largest university, issued a statement by spokeswoman Tammy DeMel.
“We have the utmost respect for the General Assembly, and while we support appropriate expressions of opinion, we do not condone the disruptive activities associated with this incident,” DeMel said.
Donahue was booked at the Fulton County Detention Center and released on a $2,000 bond after being charged with two misdemeanors.