New Michigan “Hate Speech” Bill Could Result In Felonies

First Amendment concerns.

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Tensions are brewing in Michigan as a controversial hate speech bill, HB 4474, sails through the state House and now awaits the scrutiny of the Senate. The legislation, branded by critics as a Pandora’s box, seeks to replace Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act and aims to criminalize actions that make individuals “feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened.” A tangle in the bill lies in its vague wording, with the term “harassment” used as a jigsaw piece without a clear fit, and a potential First Amendment violation.

This bill, which is part of a legislative flotilla, introduces “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the pantheon of protected classes. Felonious violators facing up to five years of incarceration and a fine reaching $10,000.

One formidable voice among them is distinguished Professor Emeritus William Wagner, a seasoned former federal judge and legal counsel in the US Senate. “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 shared with The Daily Wire.

A shadow falls on the bill’s ambiguities. It states, “’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…” The open-ended language, critics argue, is akin to an inkblot in which intimidation and harassment may be interpreted based on an individual’s perspective and a local prosecutor’s whims.

Wagner warns that under HB 4474’s auspices, a person might claim intimidation by a religious sermon or conservative article if they feel their “perceived gender identity” is assailed. He adds that the legislation retroactively adjudicates the criminality of an action, in stark contrast to the Constitution’s bedrock principle of due process.

Furthermore, Rep. Angela Rigas, an emerging Republican voice, believes the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes could lead to weaponization against conservatives. “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 remarked to The Daily Wire.

HB 4474 tiptoes around constitutionally protected speech, with a brief mention but no guiding light on how it reconciles with First Amendment concerns such as religious liberty. The text merely notes that intimidation doesn’t encompass “constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.”

As the gavel waits to fall, HB 4474, which passed the Democrat-controlled House with a tight margin of 59-50, sits in the Senate chambers. The bill may find swift passage and receive the gubernatorial stamp from Michigan’s Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Conservatives, outnumbered in the legislature, are pinning their hopes on the judiciary as their bastion.

“Unfortunately here in Michigan, we have lost all three branches of power in our state…there is no current way to fix these issues without higher courts becoming involved,” Rep. Rigas articulated.

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