A sincere proposal to criminalize a word was formally considered at the highest level of a state’s government.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts legislators considered a bill that would criminalize certain uses of the word “bitch” — making it punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $200.
The bill, introduced a month ago by state Democratic representative Dan Hunt, states that “a person who uses the word ‘bitch’ directed at another person to accost, annoy, degrade or demean the other person shall be considered to be a disorderly person” and would be guilty of a criminal offense punishable by “a fine of not more than either $150 or $200, or jail time of up to six months.” The offense could be reported not only by the person being called a bitch, but also a third-party witness.
As many legal scholars have pointed out, the proposed law is blatantly unconstitutional. For example, Ari Cohn, the former director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told The Washington Examiner:
The First Amendment does not and cannot sanction prohibiting words simply because they are subjectively used to “degrade” or “demean.” If the word “bitch” can be outlawed when used to demean, why can’t “MAGA” or “liberal”? Going down the road Rep. Hunt proposes would expose to prosecution nearly all of the speech that the First Amendment was meant to protect.
Jim Manley, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation (which litigates free-speech issues), told Reason something similar:
As the Supreme Court has said there’s no happy talk requirement in the First Amendment. You cannot ban a word when it’s used to annoy someone but let them use the word when they are using the word in a positive way.
“Legislatures can’t just pluck words out of the dictionary and ban them,” he said.
Basically, the consensus is clear that this would not — and could not — ever become law, but honestly, I still find myself disturbed by the fact that it was even discussed in the legislature in the first place. After all, this means that the public servants in Massachusetts actually have so little knowledge of the Constitution (which the taxpayers are paying them to protect) that they spent their (taxpayer-funded) time earnestly considering it.
Most of my columns at National Review focus on PC culture, and sometimes, when I write about some idiotic, anti-free-speech idea presented by some idiotic, anti-free-speech student or professor, people will ask me why I wasted my time writing about it. After all, these critics allege, it was just a random opinion from some ultra-progressive fringe moron; it’s not like it has any real impact on society.
Unfortunately, news like this proves that to be false. According to Boston.com, this bill “reportedly came at the request of an unidentified constituent.” If people unconcerned about those who openly lobby against the First Amendment on the grounds that they don’t have any real influence or impact were correct, it would have stopped there. The request would have been ignored, written off as nothing more than the whack-a-doo view of some fringe-left uber-progressive who doesn’t understand the Constitution, and never discussed again.
But that’s not what happened.
It’s terrifying, but it’s true: A sincere proposal to criminalize a word was formally considered at the highest level of a state’s government. Someone was advocating for blatantly unconstitutional censorship not just in some classroom in Berkeley, Calif., but in an official capacity at a state’s capital.
The good news is, I truly believe that most people would disagree with this kind of law. I truly do believe that. At the same time, though, when we see something like this, we cannot say that the super-woke, censorship-happy aren’t having any influence. They are, and it’s up to us sane people to fight against this toxic, draconian line of thinking whenever we see it. After all, living in a country without freedom of speech as a check against government power would be more than just kind of a bitch.