Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is behind a piece of legislation designed to hand government the power to codify, seek out and prosecute “hate speech” on TV, radio and online, proposing a bill he said last week would make “crystal clear that any recommendations must be consistent with the First Amendment’s free speech protections.”
Sounds paradoxical – and a host of critics agree.
Harvard law professor and heavily-quoted legal pundit Alan Dershowitz told the Boston Herald the bill’s intentions are impossible to reconcile with a Bill of Rights that placed the absolute freedom of speech at the top of the list of essential civil liberties.
“He’s not going to be able to come up with legislation that sufficiently protects the First Amendment,” said Dershowitz. “We always have to be able to respond to the racists and bigots, but not at the expense of the First Amendment.”
The Markey bill is based on a proposed government study Markey supported back in the early 1990s that, at the time, concluded that actual crimes that could be linked to so-called “hate speech” promulgated through media outlets amounted to a smattering of “largely anecdotal” incidents.
Nevertheless, Markey’s bill – which is co-sponsored in the House by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) – aims to put the Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in charge of defining hate speech and of recommending to Congress which Federal agency, or agencies, should be tasked with trolling the Internet and scanning radio talk shows for prosecutable offenses.
Civil liberties attorney Harvey A. Silvergate told the Boston Herald that’s simply a ludicrous idea – but he and other Bill of Rights advocates warn that the public should not dismiss the threat of such proposals becoming law just because they sound silly.
“This proposed legislation is worse than merely silly. It is dangerous,” he said. “It is not up to Senator Markey, nor to the federal government, to define for a free people what speech is, and is not, acceptable.”