Michigan’s Expanded Hate Crime Legislation Worries Free Speech Advocates
The State House of Michigan recently passed a bill that expands the state’s existing hate crime law to specifically include protection for the LGBTQ people against “intimidation” by haters. However, the language of the bill has raised concerns that the new legislation could be used to target conservatives and critics of self-proclaimed transgenderism.
The bill HB 4474 passed Michigan’s House on June 20 by a 59-50 vote to amend the existing state law on Ethnic Intimidation (MCL 750.147b). The amendment replaces the term “ethnic intimidation” with “hate crime” and broadens the range of potential victims to include more variables/characteristics of people who are the possible targets of “malicious” acts of violence, injury, and/or intimidation.
The previous variables of the victims as listed in the legislation included race, color, religion, gender, and national origin; the amended ones expand the list and add sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical or mental disability, age, and ethnicity. The punishment for violation of the new legislation includes a fine of up to $10000 and/or a maximum of 5 years in prison.
As HB 4474 passed the Democrat-controlled State House, free speech advocates expressed concerns over potential political weaponization of the bill. The inclusion of “gender identity or expression” among the list of characteristics of potential victims instantly sparked criticism and questions among conservatives, who feel the new legislation is meant to force people’s preferred pronouns on everyone. Timothy Nerozzi of Fox News wrote that HB 4474 would make it a felony to intimidate someone by using the wrong gender pronouns.
Digging into the details, Nerozzi pointed to the bill’s language that makes gender entirely one’s personal and flexible construct.
According to the bill, “Gender identity or expression’ means having or being perceived as having a gender-related self-identity or expression whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
He added that such a definition of gender identity or expression would violate the First Amendment – or free speech – rights of critics who adhere to a “traditional, scientific view of sex and gender.”
Legal expert William Wagner of Western Michigan University expressed his concerns in clear terms over the bill’s use as a political weapon against conservatives. He was cited by The College Fix as:
“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.”
Georgia State College of Law Professor Eric Segall expressed his approval of the Michigan’s new legislation but couldn’t help admitting that it is likely unconstitutional due to a conflict with the First Amendment. He was cited telling Newsweek:
“I also think that’s unfortunate because my personal view is the law should be constitutional, but I think it’s likely not.”
Kayla Clarke of ClickOnDetroit.com, on the other hand, opined that HB 4474 would not criminalize “incorrect use” of pronouns. Clarke underscored that the bill does not explicitly criminalize the use of incorrect pronouns and cited Michael McDaniel of Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School as an expert on the topic:
“While disrespectful or rude, a failure to use a person’s requested pronoun would not run afoul of the proposed amendment to our Hate Crimes Law for many reasons.”
On June 30, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson posted a video to Twitter and talked about the issue of gender identity and pronouns, illustrating with Admiral Rachel Levine, current assistant secretary for health in the Biden administration, who used to be Richard Levine before changing genders.