21 October 2014

New PA law threatens prisoners' freedom of speech

Earlier this month, on invitation, controversial convicted Philadelphia cop killer and former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (now serving a life sentence) spoke remotely to Goddard College's graduation class. And some people didn't like it. So the Pennsylvania state legislature fast-tracked a bill called the "Revictimization Relief Act", which allows crime victims to sue to stop offenders from speaking if it might cause the victims mental anguish.

Today, Governor Tom Corbett signed that bill into law.

That slope seems pretty slippery to me.

And civil rights advocates are accusing the new law of violating the First Amendment, so I'm guessing that there's probably another kind of lawsuit brewing here. I certainly hope so.

Let me say right now that this is not a blog post about Mumia. I've written all I have to say (for now) about him here. This is about Pennsylvania's new law in general and First Amendment rights in particular.

"This bill [is] terrible public policy," said PA State Senator Daylin Leach (D, District 17), who voted against it. "You can punish certain, limited types of speech after the fact (libel, lying in advertising, etc.)," he continued. "But you can never (except for revealing state military secrets) be restrained from speaking before you speak. This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable."

"Keep in mind, the First Amendment was designed specifically to protect unpopular speakers, like Mumia," said Leach. "Popular speakers with popular messages don't need First Amendment protection. Nobody is trying to silence them. When I taught First Amendment law, I would tell my students: 'To see if you really believe in free speech, think of the speech you hate the most, and defend that.'"



"The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech."
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

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