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‘Anti-riot’ bills pose a real risk of censorship

Mar 9, 2021 by AFP

Several state legislatures are considering so-called anti-riot measures, pitched as protecting public safety by addressing violence. Sounds OK, right? Who could be against stopping riots?

But writing in Newsweek, David Voorman, Americans for Prosperity’s senior policy analyst for free speech and peace, calls out the threat to free expression and peaceful assembly posed by these benign-sounding bills.

“Laws don’t have to be called the Censorship Act of 2021 for those in power to use them to target people and ideas with which they disagree,” he writes.

The proposals being considered in Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Kentucky, and other states touch on legitimate concerns about violence. Rioting is not free speech, and public officials should enforce the laws we have.

But some of the measures reach far beyond addressing violence, and in so doing risk eroding civil liberties, while doing little to increase public safety.

Voorman cites legislation in Kentucky, where an anti-riot bill “would bar anyone convicted under an overly broad and vague definition of rioting from receiving certain public benefits, in addition to imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences. Kentuckians would be left to decide between their First Amendment right to protest and their food security, health care benefits, or even housing, lest the rally get deemed a ‘riot’ by law enforcement.”

That’s a choice no American should have to make. And rest assured, if these laws were to become widespread, many who today think they are not relevant to their lives might find out otherwise. The first targets of speech repression are rarely the last.

You can read the whole thing here, and learn more about Americans for Prosperity’s work defending free speech and other civil liberties here.