Despite massive rallies in support of the Second Amendment, Virginia Democrats are proceeding with attempts to dismantle the right to bear arms in the commonwealth.
Now, at least one elected official wants to chip away at the First Amendment as well.
The attack on free speech is hidden in a bill that is nominally about prosecution of threats against state officials.
Virginia House Bill 1627, introduced by Democratic Delegate Jeffrey Bourne earlier this month, would largely maintain existing criminal penalties for threatening violence, but adds special protections for state officials.
There’s no disputing that a legal remedy needs to exist for credible threats, but this bill takes existing law to an uncomfortable place.
The governor and other officials of the commonwealth get special treatment under HB 1627 that could see the accused hauled to the state’s capital, Richmond.
Normally, a person accused of sending a threatening message would either be tried in the jurisdiction where the message was sent or received. But under this legislation, if the threat is made against certain state officials, that goes out the window.
The accused could be dragged to Richmond if the threat in question was made against “the Governor, Governor-elect, Lieutenant Governor, Lieutenant Governor-elect, Attorney General, or Attorney General-elect, a member or employee of the General Assembly, a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, or a judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia,” according to the bill’s text.
The worst part of the bill is an addendum hidden near the bottom of the wordy document.
That subsection of HB 1627 targets those who would do the unthinkable — harass the governor and other officials through a computer.
While existing law already makes it a crime to “use a computer or computer network to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language” if the intent is “to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person,” HB 1627 tacks on an additional stipulation. If the target of the harassment is the governor or other listed officials, the accused could be dragged to Richmond to answer for his or her crimes.
This bill seems more at home in Russia’s law books than our own, however.
Americans have a long and proud tradition of pushing the limits of criticism protected under freedom of speech.
This bill would limit that ability by making crimes against government officials special cases that could require special circumstances, like a trial in the capital.
Considering how Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam thought Second Amendment activists were intent on “insurrection” during a peaceful march on Richmond, his definition of what constitutes harassment is likely built on shaky ground.
Attacks against the governor using his racist past are one prominent example that jumps to mind.
There’s no doubt that some people will find the governor’s school nickname of “Coonman” to be obscene and vulgar.
Is a protester who sends that criticism to Northam now guilty of a crime?
Will he be hauled in chains to Richmond to defend himself in a court of law?
This bill seems to hint that yes, he very well could be.
Though this may seem like a small change to the law, it’s an intimidation against Virginians that robs them of a potent form of protest.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.