As hard as it is to believe, the state of Arizona could find itself in similar company with communist and hardline countries like China and Syria, if a new piece of legislation recently passed by the state Legislature is ever signed into law by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
According to reports,Arizona House Bill 2549, which is aimed at targeting cyber-bullying, electronic harassment and stalking, was pulled by supporters following a national uproar over what many view as its invasive provisions and First Amendment implications.
Meant to outlaw “obscene, lewd or profane language” when communicating with an electronic or digital device, or to suggest a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to “terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend,” the measure was lambasted for being too far-ranging.
Criminalizing ‘irritating’ speech?
In a letter to Brewer, First Amendment-rights groupMedia Coalitionasked her to veto the bill, if it ever makes it to her desk in its current form, to “allow legislators to craft a narrower bill that addresses their concerns without infringing on the right of free speech.”
Media Coalition, in its letter, said it was speaking on behalf of “many members throughout the country, including Arizona: publishers, booksellers and librarians, makers and retailers of recordings, films, videos and video games.”
“Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people,” the letter states.
“The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person,” it said.
Despite the bill’s obvious First Amendment implications, backers are still singing its praises.
“We believed we were moving forward in good faith,” said State Rep. Vic Williams to thePhoenix New Times. He said lawmakers had received a number of “legitimate concerns” and a number ofillegitimateconcerns, though he didn’t go into detail about what those were.
Still, Williams appears to be at least acting in good faith. He’s been in talks with Media Coalition executive director David Horowitz about the bill, and Williams says he’s willing to work the kinks out – though he maintains that legislators still want to find some way to protect people from undue harassment andelectronic trolling.
Worse, he has sought to demonize some critics of the legislation, derisively labeling them “conspiracy theorists” who are coming out of the woodwork to derail the measure. He hasn’t provided many specifics about what he has called the “black helicopter crowd,” but he says they’re “not helping move a critical issue forward.”
Critical forwhom? Is this such a huge problem in Arizona it requires the violation of a fundamental constitutional protection in order to effectively deal with it?
The greatest danger to the liberties and freedoms Americans enjoy is the lack of willingness among our elected leaders to “do the right thing” and simply observe the Constitution and its various protective provisions. Our founding fathers were not without their own personal flaws but generally speaking they were men of integrity, and as such were fully able to resist the seductive lure of gathering power unto them and rather, designing a government “of the people, for the people, by the people.”
Since there is nothing new under the sun – including human nature – such deference to the masses required an incredible amount of humbleness and self-restraint.
Measures like the one being considered in Arizona – and the scores of similar federal laws and proposals – are evidence that the kind of integrity and self-restraint characteristic of our founders has long since disappeared from today’s American leaders.
And that is the real enemy of freedom.
Sources for this article include: