Experts: Markey Proposal May Threaten Free Speech

Erin Smith, Boston Herald, April 23, 2014

U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey wants the government to study and recommend ways to stop the Internet, TV and radio from “encouraging hate crimes,” but First Amendment advocates say the bill is a menace to free speech.

“This proposed legislation is worse than merely silly. It is dangerous,” said civil liberties lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate, arguing even hate speech is protected absent a crime. “It is not up to Sen. Markey, nor to the federal government, to define for a free people what speech is, and is not, acceptable.”

Markey’s bill would direct a government agency to identify hate speech and create recommendations. Markey in a statement yesterday said the bill makes “crystal clear that any recommendations must be consistent with the First Amendment’s free speech protections.”

Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz said, “He’s not going to be able to come up with legislation that sufficiently protects the First Amendment. We always have to be able to respond to the racists and bigots, but not at the expense of the First Amendment.”

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Michael Lieberman of the Anti-Defamation League said he backs the bill, which is similar to a Markey-backed 1993 study that found hate crimes linked to media “scattered and largely anecdotal” and recommended no government bans.

“If we thought this legislation would result in censorship, we would not support it,” said Lieberman. “You could take the position that any legislation could lead to government censorship, but the way we’re looking at this is a net positive. This updates a study that is 20 years old.”

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