Jonathan Turley: Criminalization of private speech coming to U.S.

A prominent liberal lawyer who has been involved in some of America’s highest-profile constitutional disputes is warning of an alarming rollback of free speech in Western nations.

The latest is the adoption by Norway of a criminal law that punishes people for “hate speech” toward transgender people in private conversations, noted Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“Such speech controls in Europe have led to a chilling effect on political and religious speech,” Turley wrote. “In their homes, people will often share religious and political views that depart from majoritarian values or beliefs. This law would regulate those conversations and criminalize the expression of prohibited viewpoints.”

Turley said the “most chilling fact” for Americans is that “European-style speech controls have become a core value in the Democratic Party.”

“Once a party that fought for free speech, it has become the party demanding Internet censorship and hate speech laws,” he said. “President-Elect Joe Biden has called for speech controls and recently appointed a transition head for agency media issues that is one of the most pronounced anti-free speech figures in the United States. It is a trend that seems now to be find support in the media, which celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.”

Turley warned that “the very right that has long defined us as a nation” hangs in the balance.

“Once we cross the Rubicon into speech criminalization and controls, Europe has shown that it is rarely possible to work back to liberties lost,” he argued. “We are moving into potentially the most anti-free speech period of American history — and possibly the most anti-free speech administration.”

Turley noted that many politicians are already arguing for citizens to give up their free speech rights in forums such as the internet.

“With the media echoing many of these anti-free speech sentiments, it will require a greater effort of those who value the First Amendment and its core place in our constitutional system.”

Reuters reported Norway’s law punishes “hate speech” against transgenders in public with up to three years in prison. If convicted of making the remarks in private, the term would be one year.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the justice minister has announced he intends to clamp down on “hate speech” in private homes under a new bill that critics warn could make possessing the Bible a crime.

The bill leaves out a crucial defense included in other U.K. hate crime legislation protecting conversations in the home from police intervention, free speech advocates point out, according to the U.K.’s Christian Institute.

Humza Haroon Yousaf, the cabinet secretary for justice, issued the warning in a conversation with the Justice Committee about the proposed legislation.

The Christian Institute said Yousaf is refusing to provide a “dwelling defense,” insisting that “hateful speech” in the home should be criminalized.

Lord Bracadale, the judge whose recommendations led to the bill, later advised members of the Scottish Parliament that they should think carefully about allowing a public order offense to extend into the private sphere.

He said concern about such actions is “well-founded.”

The Times of London reported the justice secretary said conversations over the dinner table that incite hatred must be prosecuted under the law.

It noted that journalists and theater directors also could face charges if what they write is perceived as deliberately stoking “prejudice.”

A move similar to Scotland’s also is being considered in England and Wales. The Law Commission, in a 540-page government document, has disclosed plans to lower the threshold for hate crimes, including criminalizing so-called “hate speech” in private dwellings, the U.K.’s Christian Institute said.

Harry Miller, a former police officer who founded Fair Cop, warned that if the private home law is adopted, a “comment over the dinner table about a huge range of people could lead to a prison sentence.”

Sarah Phillimore, a family law attorney, said: “I cannot believe the government is being asked to consider surveillance of citizens in their own home. How will the evidence of such hate crimes be collected? Will we have an East German-style secret police like the Stasi?”

The Law Commission report said that stirring up division over “race, religion or sexual orientation” in homes should be criminalized.


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