No, the First Amendment Doesn't Protect Your Right to Scale the White House Fence

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 31, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Amendment to the Constitution is short -- just 45 words -- but it covers a lot of ground, everything from corporate campaign donations to yelling 'Fire' in a crowded theater to putting the Ten Commandments on a state courthouse. And while "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," there are exceptions to that general rule.

There are laws prohibiting obscene, defamatory, and threatening speech. And there are laws prohibiting draping yourself in an American flag and hurtling over the White House fence on Thanksgiving Day.

C'mon, Constitution -- Help Me Out

Joseph Caputo claims he climbed the White House's front fence with the "noble purpose" of "calling attention to various deficiencies in the Constitution." That's the same Constitution to which he ran in defense of the criminal charges of unlawfully entering restricted government grounds. Caputo says his actions are protected by his free speech rights, but a federal judge disagreed. "There is, after all," the judge wrote, "no First Amendment right to express one's self in a nonpublic area like the White House."

Add "First Amendment too limited" to Caputo's binder list of Constitutional complaints.

Don't Fence Me Out

Caputo's criminal case will proceed to trial in September, where he can continue his quest to highlight the government's failure "to pay attention to domestic issues." But again, it seems like the feds were pretty on top of this particular issue. President Barack Obama and his family were reportedly dining in the White House at the time, and the jump triggered a lockdown at the complex that day.

The appeal to First Amendment protection may have had some far-reaching implications. After all, who's to know whether the freedom of speech also protects crashing White House dinners or firing shots at the building?

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