FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Decriminalize Political Speech

by JAYNE LYN STAHL

In February, the Supreme Court will hear on appeal what many consider to be among the most important cases that speaks to the constitutionality of political speech in recent times, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

And, in light of the failed attempt to blow up a Northwest jetliner heading from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day, it will be a test of the strength of the Bill of Rights, and even more important that the First Amendment prevail.

The plaintiff in the case, Humanitarian Law Project, is a human rights group that often consults with the United Nations, and that has in the past assisted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eela. They, along with administrative law judges and others, have had their right to free association challenged under legislation that dates back to Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and the mid-1990’s, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing; legislation that was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton.

The “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” was unmistakeably every inch a bipartisan effort, and is easily recognizable as the precursor to the USA Patriot Act. The objective of AEDPA was to cut off all sources of material assistance to any groups the State Department deems to be sources of international terror.

According to Free Expression Policy Project, the measure empowers the State Department to construct a list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” and criminalize any “material support” to these groups. While parts of the law were struck down several times by federal courts, plaintiffs in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project are taking legislation that has had the chilling effect of derailing the First Amendment all the way to the Supreme Court.

So, on February 23rd, the highest court in the land will get to decide whether any of the four provisions of AEDPA constitute criminal activity. The penalty for being convicted of providing material support to a State Department blacklisted group can be as much as fifteen years behind bars. The definition of terrorism is said to be simply “any actual or threatened use of a weapon against people or property.”

Two years ago, an appeals court found much of the law o be “unconstitutionally vague,” and it will soon be the Supreme’s turn up at bat to hear a challenge to a measure that, in the words of attorney for the plaintiffs, is “so sweeping that it treats human rights advocates as criminal terrorists…and makes advocating human rights or other lawful, peaceable activity a crime simply because it is done for the benefit of, or in conjunction with, a group the Secretary of State has blacklisted.”

Apart from the Carter Center, Human Rights Watch, and coalitions of sociologists and anthropologists, Humanitarian Law Project has another interesting friend.. A group calling itself “Victims of the McCarthy Era,” with 32 members many of whom were either themselves blacklisted and/or incarcerated during the 1950’s, or had family members blacklisted, for their guilt by association with the Communist Party, has signed onto an amicus brief, and urges that the Supreme Court follow an earlier ruling, Scales v. United States, that suggests “material support” bans must apply only to those who specifically support a group’s illegal activities.

When President Obama speaks of threats posed by al Qaeda and what he calls “its affiliates,” he invites not only fear and rancor, like his predecessor George W. Bush, but he’s essentially comparing political organizations with corporate franchises. Surely, al Qaeda is not the terrorist equivalent of MacDonald’s.

The dangers of seeing any one group as if it were an apocalyptic octapus with wide, and unambiguous tentacles, far outweigh any benefits. Any effort that has as its mission the prevention of human rights abuse, and discrimination must not be silenced in the name of making the world safe from terrorism. Indeed, to silence free speech is a form of terrorism, an act of violence against independent thought.

We urge the Supreme Court to uphold the ruling of a federal court and, in effect, nullify any legislation that is “unconstitutionally vague,” that confers upon human rights activists guilt by association, and that criminalizes political speech.

 

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

Weekend Edition
May 06, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Wagner
When Liberals Run Out of Patience: the Impolite Exile of Seymour Hersh
John Stauber
Strange Bedfellows: the Bizarre Coalition of Kochs, Neocons and Democrats Allied Against Trump and His #FUvoters
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and the End of the Democratic Party
Joshua Frank
Afghanistan: Bombing the Land of the Snow Leopard
Bill Martin
Fear of Trump: Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism
Doug Johnson Hatlem
NYC Board of Elections Suspends 2nd Official, Delays Hillary Clinton v. Bernie Sanders Results Certification
Carol Miller
Pretending the Democratic Party Platform Matters
Paul Street
Hey, Bernie, Leave Them Kids Alone
Tamara Pearson
Mexico Already Has a Giant Wall, and a Mining Company Helped to Build It
Paul Craig Roberts
Somnolent Europe, Russia, and China
Dave Lindorff
Bringing the Sanders ‘Revolution’ to Philly’s Streets
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Last Gasp Imperialism
Carmelo Ruiz
The New Wave of Repression in Puerto Rico
Jack Denton
Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”
Jeffrey St. Clair
David Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books, the CounterPunch Connection
David Rosen
Poverty in America: the Deepening Crisis
Pepe Escobar
NATO on Trade, in Europe and Asia, is Doomed
Pete Dolack
Another Goodbye to Democracy if Transatlantic Partnership is Passed
Carla Blank
Prince: Pain and Dance
Gabriel Rockhill
Media Blackout on Nuit Debout
Barry Lando
Welcome to the Machine World: the Perfect Technological Storm
Hilary Goodfriend
The Wall Street Journal is Playing Dirty in El Salvador, Again
Frank Stricker
Ready for the Coming Assault on Social Security? Five Things Paul Ryan and Friends Don’t Want You to Think About
Robert Gordon
Beyond the Wall: an In-Depth Look at U.S. Immigration Policy
Roger Annis
City at the Heart of the Alberta Tar Sands Burning to the Ground
Simon Jones
RISE: New Politics for a Tired Scotland
Rob Hager
After Indiana: Sanders Wins another Purple State, But Remains Lost in a Haze of Bad Strategy and Rigged Delegate Math
Howard Lisnoff
Father Daniel Berrigan, Anti-war Hero With a Huge Blindspot
Adam Bartley
Australia-China Relations and the Politics of Canberra’s Submarine Deal
Nyla Ali Khan
The Complexity of the Kashmir Issue: “Conflict Can and Should be Handled Constructively
Josh Hoxie
American Tax Havens: Elites Don’t Have to go to Panama to Hide Their Money–They’ve Got Delaware
Ramzy Baroud
The Spirit of Nelson Mandela in Palestine: Is His Real Legacy Being Upheld?
Alli McCracken - Raed Jarrar
#IsraelSaudi: A Match Made in Hell
George Wuerthner
Working Wilderness and Other Code Words
Robert Koehler
Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz
Ron Jacobs
Psychedelic Rangers Extraordinaire
Missy Comley Beattie
It’s a Shit Show!
David Macaray
Our Best Weapon Is Being Systematically Eliminated
Colin Todhunter
Future Options: From Militarism and Monsanto to Gandhi and Bhaskar Save
Binoy Kampmark
The Trump Train Chugs Along
Cesar Chelala
A Lesson of Auschwitz
John Laforge
Dan Berrigan, 1921 – 2016: “We Haven’t Lost, Because We Haven’t Given Up.”
Norman Trabulsy Jr
John Denver and My 40th High School Reunion
Charles R. Larson
Being Gay in China, Circa 1987
David Yearsley
Skepticism, Irony, and Doubt: Williams on Bach
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail