Michigan HB 4474 is Anti–Free Speech and Anti-Constitution

For all of the talk I hear about us conservatives being “authoritarian” and “tyrannical,” it seems very ironic that the Michigan Democratic Party has decided to push for the passage of HB 4474, which, when you read the bill, might be one of the most authoritarian and tyrannical bills passed in Michigan in recent memory, alongside many of the bills surrounding COVID-19.

Of course, everyone who has read the Constitution understands that free speech is a firmly protected right enshrined in the First Amendment. In fact, our right to free speech has been consistently protected by the Supreme Court countless times. Specifically, in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Supreme Court voted in an 8–0 decision (Justice Abe Fortas retired prior to the decision, resulting in only eight justices deciding this particular case) that free speech, including speech that advocates illegal conduct, is protected under the First Amendment unless that speech calls for “imminent lawless action.” So, no bill can reasonably be considered constitutional if it restricts free speech that does not directly call for imminent violence and lawlessness according to Supreme Court precedent.

It is worth mentioning that other Supreme Court precedent does restrict particular forms of speech in particular settings. Cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) and Morse v. Frederick (2007) do allow some restrictions on speech in K–12 schools if the speech causes substantial disruption or advocates the use of illegal substance use. Another case, Roth v. U.S. (1957), did provide restrictions on obscene speech, although this case has since been qualified by Miller v. California (1973), which created a three-step process in determining whether speech can reasonably be considered obscene. However, even with these particular restrictions, HB 4474 would still grossly violate the First Amendment.

Michigan HB 4474 states that a person may be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison if they “intimidate[] or harass[] another individual,” use “force or violence, or cause “severe mental anguish” based on two new additions of “perceived characteristics”: gender identity or sexual orientation. How can we define intimidation, harassment, and violence? Well, if the person feels like they’ve been intimidated or harassed, then, of course, they’ve been harassed according to this bill. It’s also important to mention that no one on the left can even define what violence means. Up until a couple of years ago, effectively everyone understood that violence was related to some form of physical harm. Unfortunately, a wide majority of Democrats no longer define violence that way. So, how do we define violence? According to Democrats, words are violence, and in particular, words that they disagree with are, obviously, violence.

For example, roughly one year ago, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) asked Khiara Bridges — a University of California, Berkeley law professor, a simple question. When Bridges used the term “people with the capacity to get pregnant,” Hawley asked Bridges, “Would that be women?” In response, an agitated Bridges stated that Hawley’s line of questioning, “opens up transgender people to violence.” So, by asking a very simple question that anyone with any understanding of objective reality could answer as being yes, people who have the capacity to get pregnant are women and only women, as no man has any of the biological components or functions necessary in order to get pregnant, Hawley was, apparently, calling for violence against transgender people.

Now, one might argue that Bridges’s response and statements were simply an exception and an anomaly. Yet, if this was the case, why is that almost every single major news outlet sided with Bridges? A video published by Newsweek regarding this interaction stated that Bridges “slammed” Hawley for his vicious and “transphobic” attack on trans people. People all over the internet were calling Hawley’s words violent and an attack on trans people.

If by asking a simple question about which gender can get pregnant is considered a call for violence against a community, then that would that mean that any form of questioning or expression of opposition against the transgender community or, for that matter, any other groups of individuals viewed as “marginalized” by the left, would be a felony under HB 4474. This also means that any religious institution or group that preaches against homosexuality or transgenderism at pride marches or in other public areas in which free speech is absolutely protected could become felons under this bill if someone feels threatened or harassed.

The bill itself also states that any action of statement is considered a felony if someone reasonably feels threatened or intimidated by those words. However, how can one determine what is considered “reasonable” with regards to being intimidated or harassed? Many people on the left felt it was reasonable when Bridges stated that Hawley’s question of what “birthing persons” means was threatening violence. However, nowhere in Hawley’s statement did he ever explicitly, or even implicitly, come close to mentioning any form of violence.

So, how can we trust that this law won’t result in charges against individuals expressing opposition to things such as homosexuality, transgenderism, and gender ideology with a felony? How can we trust a party that doesn’t live in objective reality — as witnessed by its members’ inability to give a definition for  “woman” — with properly determining if an action or statement makes someone reasonably feel intimidated or harassed? Simply put, we can’t. Therefore, anyone who has respect for the First Amendment and our Constitution should strongly oppose HB 4474 and its associated bills, HB 4475, 4476, and 4478, and genuine conservatives must begin speaking out about the authoritarian and tyrannical measures that the Michigan Democratic Party is pushing on citizens, along with its national counterpart.

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About Wade Vellky

Wade Vellky, the deputy editor of the Michigan Review, is a sophomore in LSA. Originally from Orange Township, Ohio, he previously attended the University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University.