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A Michigan hate speech bill that has passed the state House and is now in the hands of the Senate is alarming conservatives, people of faith, and legal experts.
The bill, HB 4474, is part of a package of legislation that would replace Michigan’s existing Ethnic Intimidation Act and make it a hate crime to cause someone to “feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened.” Under the bill’s framework, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” are included as classes protected against intimidation. If passed, the hate speech legislation would make violators guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Many conservatives have voiced concerns that the bill infringes on Americans’ First Amendment rights. Distinguished Professor Emeritus William Wagner, a former federal judge and legal counsel in the U.S. Senate, joined the chorus of politicians and lawyers warning against the bill.
“Make no mistake about it. Those advocating for this legislation will wield these policies as a weapon capable of destroying conservative expression or viewpoints grounded in the sacred,” Wagner told The Daily Wire. “One merely needs to look at the scores of cases brought against schools, churches, businesses, and individuals around our country. Proponents use these laws to silence and financially cripple those who dare to adhere to a different viewpoint and oppose their agenda.”
The newest version of the bill, which passed the House, uses the term “harassment” without defining specifically what it could refer to.
“’Intimidate’ means a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened,” the bill states.
Wagner said that under HB 4474, someone could listen to a speaker such as a religious preacher or read a conservative writer and claim they’re being intimidated because their “perceived gender identity” is under attack. Under the legislation, intimidation and harassment could be up to the interpretation of the listener and a local prosecutor, according to Wagner, who added that the bill determines what is criminal “after the action,” the opposite of the due process required by the Constitution.
Rep. Angela Rigas, a Republican freshman in the state House, told The Daily Wire that including sexual orientation and gender identity as a “protected class” specifically targets conservatives who speak out against radical gender ideology.
“The state of Michigan is now explicitly allowing the gender delusion issue to be used as a ‘protected class.’ This opens up numerous issues when it comes to the courts and the continued weaponization of the system against conservatives,” Rigas said. “We saw similar concerns when they wanted to pass blocks on ‘conversion’ therapy. It seems Dems want to be in the business of telling people how to think. We are determined to keep choice and opinion a free choice despite those efforts.”
While HB 4474 includes a brief mention of constitutionally protected speech, it does not detail how the government would address First Amendment concerns such as religious liberty if the legislation passes and inevitably pits those who identify as LGBTQ against people of faith who oppose such lifestyles.
“Intimidate does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose,” the bill states.
In a Tuesday ruling that could potentially have implications for the hate speech legislation in Michigan, the Supreme Court set new standards for what constitutes a threat, making it more difficult for a state to convict someone of making a threat.
“The State must show that the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial risk that his communications would be viewed as threatening violence,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority opinion and was joined by six other justices.
HB 4474 passed Michigan’s Democrat-controlled House 59-50 and is currently before the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats. If passed, the bill will likely become law after a quick signature from the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. With Republicans lacking the votes to stand in the way of the legislation, conservatives will have to rely on the courts.
“Unfortunately here in Michigan, we have lost all three branches of power in our state,” Rigas said. “While my colleagues are introducing great bills to counter the infringements to our freedoms, there is no current way to fix these issues without higher courts becoming involved.”