Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Free Speech Under Attack in Vermont General Assembly

'A true threat is one of those cases... '

(Tony Sifert, Headline USA) The Vermont General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would criminalize certain expressions of political speech, according to former Vermont gubernatorial candidate John Klar.

In Klar’s reading, S.265 — innocuously titled “An act relating to expanding criminal threatening to include threats to third persons” — would “send citizens to jail for threatening political leaders for twice as long as if they physically assaulted them.”

The law, which was sponsored by Democrat Sens. Alison Clarkson and Richard Sears, “specifically targets a political intent” and is “obviously unconstitutional,” Klar wrote.

According to its text, the legislation would penalize citizens for “threaten[ing] another person or group of persons” where those threats are made in certain public places, like schools, places of worship, polling places, or state and federal buildings.”

The legislation would also penalize threats made to prevent officials from complying with state laws, rules, or executive orders.

Furthermore, the law would remove as  an “affirmative defense” both the question of the alleged threat-maker’s intent and “ability to carry out the threat.”

Sears introduced the bill in direct response to the political atmosphere in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, according to VTDigger.

“There are certain narrow and well-defined classes of expression that carry so little social value that the state can prohibit and punish such expression without violating the First Amendment,” Sears told Senate colleagues. “A true threat is one of those cases.”

VTDigger also reported that the ACLU of Vermont has not supported the bill.

“The ACLU of Vermont warned lawmakers that an earlier version of S.265 could be applied too broadly and chill ‘certain forms of political hyperbole,'” the site reported.

The legislation was first introduced to the Vermont Senate on Jan. 18, was swiftly passed a month later, and is now under consideration by the House Committee on Judiciary.

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