Michigan Democrats advance bill that could give violators 5 years in prison for ‘hate speech’

by WorldTribune Staff, June 26, 2023

In what critics are calling an overt attack on the First Amendment, Democrats in the Michigan legislature are advancing a bill that would make it easier for prosecutors to level felony “hate crime” charges for speech.

The proposed legislation, HB 4474, would amend the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act of 1988 in order to consider it a hate crime if a person is accused of causing “severe mental anguish” to another individual by means of perceived verbal intimidation or harassment.

The legislation defines the words intimidate or harass as a “willful course of conduct, involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested…”

A convicted violator could receive a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

William Wagner, law professor, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, and founder of the Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC), said in written testimony submitted to the Michigan state House Criminal Justice Committee: “The proposed speech law is wholly inconsistent with fundamental principles of constitutional good governance under the rule of law.”

“Under the proposed statute, ‘intimidate and harass’ can mean whatever the victim, or the authorities, want them to mean. The focus is on how the victim feels rather than on a clearly defined criminal act. This is a ridiculously vague and subjective standard,” Wagner said. “The absence of intent makes no difference under this law. You are still guilty of the crime because the victim felt uncomfortable. The bill will lead to the prosecution of conservatives, pastors, and parents attending a school board meeting for simply expressing their opposition to the liberal agenda.”

Under the law, the court would have the option of an alternative sentence.

The text reads in part, “An alternative sentence may include an order requiring the offender to complete a period of community service intended to enhance the offender’s understanding of the impact of the offense upon the victim and wider community. Community service under this subdivision must be performed with the consent of — and in support of — the community targeted in the violation.”

“This option,” said Kallman, “amounts to being sentenced to a Soviet-style dissident reeducation camp.”

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat state Rep. Noah Arbit, testified at a hearing of the House Criminal Justice Committee on June 6 that facilitating prosecutions and increasing penalties were necessary to stem what he called “rising hate crimes” in Michigan.

Too many people in Michigan are confronted with the attitude “People like you are not welcome,” according to Arbit.

Arbit told the committee that he and his co-sponsors were considering removing the word “harass” from the language of the bill.

“The tweaking or even the dropping of one word does not change the fact that this is a poorly written, vague, subjective, and oppressive unconstitutional regulation of speech,” said Kallman. “Make no mistake, people pushing this bill equate speech with violence and define hate speech as ‘You disagree with me.’ ”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, testified that Michigan has the fifth-highest number of hate crimes committed per capita in the United States. She stated that HB 4474, and similar early judicial intervention measures, can help prevent initial non-violent hate crimes from escalating into murder.

“You can literally save lives,” Nessel told the committee.

Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Kim Worthy, also a Democrat, called the existing Ethnic Intimidation Law “woefully inadequate.”

Worthy testified that HB 4474 was a “useful tool” that would make it “easier to prosecute real hate crimes” and send a message that they are “absolutely intolerable in this state. We have to protect our victims of hate crimes.”

Membership . . . . Intelligence . . . . Publish