Rights Relating to Protesters Near a Farm

            Freedom of assembly in any form is a constitutionally protected and time-honored right in this country.  This freedom must be considered when dealing with protesters near your farm.  While protesters have the freedom to assemble, that assembly must take place at the right time, location, and in the correct form.  The government may place reasonable restrictions on the freedom of assembly, limiting where and when groups can assemble to protest.  

            Consider posting your property with “No Trespassing” signs.  Protesting on private property marked with “No Trespassing” signs or paint is a misdemeanor (Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 6-402).  See the following checklist to determine how many no trespassing signs you should post.

            If protesters are on your property, never take matters into your own hands; instead, call the appropriate law enforcement agency, such as the county police department. Exercising self-help in these instances could go wrong and cause potential legal problems for you and your farming operation.

Aerial image of Maryland poultry operation.  Image by the Chesapeake Bay Program

Protesters Have a Protected Right to Express Views Through Peaceful Protests

            Protesters may use traditional public forums, such as streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way, or public parking lots.  While this right is constitutionally protected, it can also be reasonably restricted.   In Maryland, it is illegal for a person to disturb the peace by “willfully and without lawful purpose” impeding passage on public spaces (Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 10-201).  For example, protesters cannot legally block others from using the public right-of-way near your farm.  Protesting on public property typically depends on what the demonstrators plan to protest.  Counties may require licenses in certain areas to allow protesting which does not impede passage in public spaces.

            Protesting on private property requires permission from the landowner.  Without it, protestors would be trespassing. If the property is posted with “No Trespassing” signs, this could potentially be a criminal violation.

Blurry image of tractor in field.  Image by Chesapeake Bay Program

Post “No Trespassing” Signs to Deter Protesters

            If protesters are trespassing on your property or a neighboring one without permission, you may ask the protesters to leave.  You should call local law enforcement to handle the situation if the protestors fail to do so. 

            If the protesting takes place in a public space but is impeding access to your property, contact local law enforcement.  Do not directly confront the protesters. Everyone has a camera phone and any interaction might end up on social media.  Any video going viral can make a bad situation worse.