What is the difference between the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association?
Freedom of assembly is explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment, securing the right of people to meet for any purpose connected with government. Freedom of association protects the activities and composition of such meetings. This right is not explicitly set out in the Constitution but is instead derived from fundamental privacy interests and the rights of speech, petition and assembly.
What kinds of associations are protected?
Any and every group is allowed to meet to discuss ideas and peaceably promote its point of view, even if that message is distasteful to others. Whether through parades, peaceful protests, picketing or simply sharing ideas, an organization formed for expressive purposes may engage in “group speech” to advance its mission. Freedom of association also protects the gathering of people for personal, private purposes, such as the meeting of family members.
When can the government restrict associations?
Groups that wish to engage in public activism must abide by generally applicable laws, such as criminal trespass or prohibitions on litter, excess noise, crowd congestion and permit requirements. If the government seeks to intervene in the internal affairs of group in a way that impairs its advocacy, the regulation must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest that outweighs any burden on the group’s speech.
How broad is the freedom of association?
This freedom protects the right of people to meet and publicly support a cause or message. It also protects the right of people not to be affiliated with certain messages or ideas. For example, the government cannot force expressive associations to accept unwanted members who would impair the effectiveness of the group. Nor can the government force people to support undesirable causes through required fees or dues as part of belonging to a group.
Is there such a thing as 'guilt by association'?
Simply attending peaceful meetings of an organization will not make a person guilty, even if other members of that organization commit lawless acts. Guilt can be shared only if the organization and its members have a common plan to break the law.