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Free Speech

"To Refute the Belief That BLACK LIVES MATTER … Through Words, Actions, Vandalism, or Destruction IS A HATE CRIME"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

That's from the New Castle (N.Y.) Town Board (and then reposted by N.Y. state senator Pete Harckham):

Make no mistake, to refute the belief that BLACK LIVES MATTER in any way, shape, or form, through words, actions, vandalism, or destruction IS A HATE CRIME.

The statement is in response to what appears to be the burning of a Black Lives Matter sign that had been put up at a local Quaker meeting house; and that of course is a crime, which should be punished. (It's not clear to me whether it's a hate crime under New York law, since it doesn't seem to be motivated by the religion of the Quakers, or the race of any particular person; in any event, though, it's certainly a crime even apart from that.)

But the language of the Town Board doesn't focus on this being vandalism or arson—rather, it focuses on the action "refut[ing] the belief that BLACK LIVES MATTER" (presumably using "refute" in the sense of "deny or contradict" rather than "prove wrong"), which is to say on the political viewpoint that the vandalism and arson express. And, to make that clear, the Town Board says that "refut[ing this] belief" "in any way, shape, or form," including "through words" (the first item in that list) "IS A HATE CRIME." That's targeting not just a viewpoint expressed through "vandalism" or criminal "destruction," but also through "words."

At this point this seems like just political rhetoric, and not a threat of prosecution for "refut[ing] … through words" that could lead to a legal challenge. But it's political rhetoric that strikes me as quite sharply at odds with First Amendment principles, which I thought worth mentioning.

Thanks to Zhengxi (Larry) Liu for the pointer.