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Threats to free speech are on the rise across the country. Public officials and policymakers are proposing bills that would curtail religious liberties, protest rights, and fundamental expression. There’s no shortage of examples. One of the most recent cropped up in Minnesota. And advocates for civil liberties are defending against it. Learn more from our colleague, RaeAnna K. Buchholz, who wrote this letter to Minnesota lawmakers:
May 5, 2023
Conference Committee on Senate File 2909
Omnibus Judiciary and Public Safety Bill
Chairs Latz, Moller, and Members of the Committee:
Empowering the government to investigate citizens for mere allegations of “bias” is a recipe for censorship. To protect the ability of all Minnesotans to think, speak, and debate freely, we urge you to remove the bias reporting provision as amended in SF 2909: Sec. 32. Minnesota Statutes 2022, section 363A.06, subdivision 1.
Charging citizens with monitoring and reporting on each other creates a culture of mistrust and fear which will in turn chill all forms of speech. This type of culture is what S.F. 2909 would bring about. It includes a provision that directs the Department of Human Rights Commissioner to “solicit, receive, and compile” bias “incidents.” What does “incident” entail? The provision does not say. It would likely sweep in lawful speech protected under the First Amendment — potentially everyday expression, from wearing a Black Lives Matter hat to reading a Harry Potter book.
This provision will task Minnesotans to report people with views they do not like to a non-investigative government agency which state officials will run for an indefinite amount of time. These types of bias reporting systems can and do chill free speech. The U.S. Courts of Appeal for both the Fifth and Sixth Circuits have held that similar university bias response teams threaten protected speech.
In addition to chilling free speech, there are also due process concerns with this provision. The use of the term “victim” in this provision is misleading as this program will not require the occurrence of any crime under Minnesota law but as noted above only a mere “incident.” These incidents will be compiled by the Commissioner without any corroborating evidence or the vital due process protections required in our court system. Minnesota already has robust hate crime statutes in place to deal with proven acts of violence and this new program will likely undermine those statutes which seek to impose accountability for violence motivated by bias proven at trial.
S.F. 2909 as currently drafted with the bias reporting system would chill peoples’ speech and ideas and is a violation of Minnesotans’ First Amendment rights. Because the answer to bad speech is not reporting fellow citizens’ unpopular viewpoints and expressions to an unaccountable bureaucrat, I urge you to remove this extremely concerning and unconstitutional provision.
RaeAnna K. Buchholz
RaeAnna K. Buchholz
Legislative & Coalitions Director, Minnesota
Americans for Prosperity
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