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Demonstrators believe senate bills put right to protest at risk

LANCASTER, Pa. -- A group of demonstrators believe two state senate bills put a price on free speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his non-violent protests to bring about change during the civil rights era.

It's why a group of demonstrators chose Dr. King's birthday to rally against two state bills that they believe could put the right to protest at risk.

Nearly 100 people stood out in the cold January air for what they believe is standing up for their rights.

Demonstrator Dan Michael said "this idea that any police presence must be paid by the people that are having a rally or protest, including religious groups, it seems absolutely unconscionable."

The demonstrators gathered in Lancaster to speak out against Pennsylvania state senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County) and his bill, SB 754.

It's one of two state senate bills which could affect people who protest.

Sen. Martin previously told FOX 43 News that SB 754 would provide liability for public safety costs during rallies.

Sen.Scott Martin said "people who want to come to our county, and want to protest not in a peaceful way, in exercising their free speech rights, but instead are coming here to cause harm, there should be a penalty to that."

Demonstrators marched to Martin's office to deliver a message about what they think of his bill. Since it was a holiday, no one answered their call for action to stop the two bills.

Rally organizer Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck said "if either of them had been made law when the civil rights movement was in progress, martin Luther king Jr would have been charged for the response to his protesting, non-violently against an unjust law."

Martin has said he wants to hold protesters accountable for their cost to the community.

"If they believe that their expression of their free speech is to assault people, or if it's to set things on fire, or to destroy other people's property," Martin said.

"People that often get forgotten about in these kind of discussions, are in the shadows, and that's taxpayers," Martin added.

"We already pay taxes, and our taxes help people be safe, but there are laws that are unjust. We should have the right to push back against those laws," Clatterbuck said.

It has demonstrators asking what's the price of free speech.

"He's really trying to put a cost on free speech, and we're saying that's not 'OK' with us, the right to free speech, the right to protest fabric of our democracy," Clatterbuck said.

"The idea that we have to pay, to be out here, because someone calls and they want a police presence, to watch us, is just totally against free speech," Michael said.

The other bill demonstrators are rallying against is SB 652. It proposes to charge people with criminal trespassing for entering and or damaging what the bill calls a critical facility.