Proposed ‘Hate Speech’ Law in Michigan Threatens First Amendment Rights, Conservatives Warn by Steven Kovac

Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Office of the Attorney General of Michigan)

A bill moving through the Democrat-controlled Michigan State Legislature would make it easier for prosecutors to bring felonious “hate crime” charges against dissident speech.

The possible implications for preachers, school administrators, teachers, parents, politicians, and citizen activists have alarmed conservatives concerned about the effect the bill may have on free 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 amendment 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 ‘Vague and Subjective’ Standard

“Words are malleable,” Attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC), a non-profit legal organization dedicated to preserving liberty in America, told The Epoch Times. “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 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,” Kallman said.

Criminal Penalties for Speaking Out

A convicted violator could receive 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 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.”

Making Prosecutions Easy

On June 6, the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Noah Arbit, a Democrat, testified at a hearing of the House Criminal Justice Committee that crimes motivated by sexual orientation cannot currently be prosecuted as a hate crime in Michigan.

He said facilitating prosecutions and increasing penalties were necessary to stem what he called “rising hate crimes.”

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

Elected to the legislature in the 2022 mid-terms, Arbit became the youngest LGBT person to serve there.

The Attorney General Weighs In

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, testified that Michigan has the fifth-highest number of hate crimes committed per capita in the United States, with many more incidents not reported.

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, a lesbian, told the committee.

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

She 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,” Worthy said.

Civil Actions and Damages

Arbit further testified that “Hate is a social ill. These bills are no substitute for tackling a social ill.

“We are not criminalizing hate. We are criminalizing hate when it dovetails with a criminal act.”

Arbit’s bill would allow civil action to be brought against defendants even if they were acquitted of criminal hate crime charges.

If successful in the civil suit, the plaintiff could be entitled to three times actual damages or $25,000, whichever is greater, plus attorney fees.

Epoch Times Photo
Prof. William Wagner, founder of the Great Lakes Justice Center. (Courtesy of William Wagner)

Silencing Dissent

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

Wagner told The Epoch Times that fear of prosecution would “chill” free speech and result in “self-censorship” by people who may express the belief that sex is based on biology and determined by a person’s chromosomes, and that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.

“Make no mistake about it: those with an anti-Christian agenda will wield a weapon capable of extinguishing Christian expression in the state of Michigan.”

Wagner testified that the harassment provision permits authorities to “make moral determinations and arbitrarily transforms a citizen’s protected political expression or sincerely held faith-based beliefs” into a prosecutable offense.

‘Hate Speech’ Equals Violence

Nessel assured the committee that the provisions of the bill would withstand any challenge on constitutional grounds.

Arbit told the committee that he and his co-sponsors were considering dropping 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.’”


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