Rights Relating to Protesters Near a Farm
Before we start, it is essential to remember that the freedom of assembly in any form is a constitutionally protected and time-honored right in this country. This freedom needs to be considered when dealing with protesters near your farm. The freedom to assemble must also 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.
Your first point to consider is that protesting on private property marked with “No Trespassing” signs or paint is considered a misdemeanor (Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 6-402). You should consider posting your property with “No Trespassing” signs. If you are unsure how many signs to post around your property, see this checklist. And if protesters are on your property, you should never take matters into your own hands; instead, call the appropriate law enforcement agency, such as the county police department, to handle the situation. Exercising self-help in these instances could go the wrong way and cause potential legal problems for you and your farming operation.
A. Protesters’ Rights
As mentioned, protesters have a protected right to assemble and express their views through peaceful protests. Protesters typically may use traditional public forums, such as a street, a sidewalk, a right-of-way, or a public parking lot. 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, if protesters were using the public right-of-way near your farm to protest, they could not legally block others from using the right-of-way, and protesting on public property typically depends on what the protesters plan to protest. Counties may require licenses in certain areas to allow for protesting which does not impede passage on public spaces.
Protesting on private property requires permission from the landowner. If the landowner does not give permission, this would be an example of trespass. If the property is posted with “No Trespassing” signs, this could potentially rise to the level of a criminal violation.
B. Landowners’ Rights
As mentioned, posting your property with “No Trespassing” signs is an excellent initial step to make it clear you do not want protesters on your property. If protesters are trespassing on your property or a neighboring property without permission, then the protesters should first be asked to leave the property. If they do not leave, you should then call local law enforcement to handle the situation. Never try to remove protesters on your own.
If the protesting takes place in a public space but is impeding your ability to access your property, then please contact local law enforcement. Do not directly confront the protesters; everyone has a camera in their pockets these days, and any interaction might end up on social media. We’ve all seen videos go viral, making a bad situation even worse.