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Legislative Memo: Opposing Senate legislation regarding bias-based offenses and politically motivated boycotts

Penalizing politically motivated boycotts

The NYCLU shares the deep concern that many New Yorkers feel about the recent rise in bias-based incidents. However, the approaches taken in the package of bills that the New York State Senate has passed today are misguided.

What’s more, we object to the expedited process by which the legislation was rushed from committee to floor vote in a matter of hours without a proper hearing, allowing minimal opportunity for any public notice or comment.

This set of bills aims to stifle constitutionally protected speech and organizing that express opposition to Israeli national policy. The legislation would deny access to contract bids, and funding for educational institutions and organizations, in any case where the viewpoint expressed is not the preferred one – withholding taxpayer dollars purely to frustrate political dissent. Such a proposal is well outside the bounds of federal and state law, and it reaches far beyond what is constitutionally permissible.

The NYCLU opposes any action that would authorize the government to penalize political expression and association because of the particular viewpoint of those engaged in such activity. Proponents suggest that, if only this particular viewpoint on Middle East affairs can be quieted, anti-Semitic attacks will no longer be a problem in New York.

However, state law already prohibits acts of discrimination, harassment, and bias-based violence. Our laws must not be used as a bludgeon against political dissent, nor to associate New Yorkers of any political mindset with unlawful behavior committed by others.

Enhancing penalties for bias based vandalism offenses

The NYCLU also objects to the use of penalty enhancements to address mean-spirited acts of vandalism, which are already crimes under the state’s penal code. Specifically, New York’s “hate crimes” statute was intended to address violent acts committed against people based upon status or identity – such as race, gender, nationality, or belief. That law was not meant to capture vandalism of property, even if aggravated by the use of words and symbols we find distasteful, or even hateful.

Enhancing criminal penalties for graffiti and other petty vandalism carried out in spite will do little, if anything, to address hateful belief or action. The legislation is a politically opportunistic response that fails to rise to the challenge of promoting inclusivity, acceptance and understanding. New Yorkers deserve thoughtful solutions to the rise of bias-based incidents across our state and across our nation, and the proposed legislation offers no meaningful remedy.​ 

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