A bill currently making its way through the Democrat-controlled Michigan State Legislature has sparked concerns among conservatives about the potential impact on free speech. The bill, known as HB 4474, aims to make it easier for prosecutors to bring felonious “hate crime” charges against dissident speech.
The implications of this legislation have raised alarm bells for preachers, school administrators, teachers, parents, politicians, and citizen activists. If passed, the bill would amend the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act of 1988 to consider it a hate crime if a person is accused of causing “severe mental anguish” to another individual through perceived verbal intimidation or harassment.
The proposed amendment defines “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 ‘Vague and Subjective’ Standard
“Words are malleable,” warns Attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC), a non-profit legal organization dedicated to preserving liberty in America. “They can be redefined by whoever is in power.
“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,” he explains.
“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,” Kallman adds.
Criminal Penalties for Speaking Out
If convicted, violators could face a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both. The bill does provide the court with the option of an alternative sentence.
The text states, “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,” Kallman argues, “amounts to being sentenced to a Soviet-style dissident reeducation camp.”
Making Prosecutions Easy
During a hearing of the House Criminal Justice Committee, State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor and a Democrat, testified that crimes motivated by sexual orientation cannot currently be prosecuted as hate crimes in Michigan. He believes that facilitating prosecutions and increasing penalties are necessary to address the issue of “rising hate crimes.”
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, with many more incidents going unreported. She believes that HB 4474, along with similar early judicial intervention measures, can help prevent non-violent hate crimes from escalating into more serious offenses.
With concerns about the potential impact on free speech and the broad interpretation of “intimidate and harass,” conservatives worry that this bill could have far-reaching consequences for individuals expressing their opinions and beliefs.
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