First Alabama. Now Connecticut. It’s growing, like fungus. Laws arising to guarantee that no one shall utter a harsh word and hurt anyone’s feelings. Enforced with the might of the state and some quiet time in prison. Volokh provides the text :
The Raised Bill No. 456, sec. 2 would provide, in relevant part:
So what if the delicate teacup whose feelings are bruised by mean words deserved criticism. So what if they are schemers or scammers. So what if they lied, cheated, stole. Even liars have feelings, you know.
(a) A person commits electronic harassment when such person, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, transmits, posts, displays or disseminates, by or through an electronic communication device, radio, computer, Internet web site or similar means, to any person, a communication, image or information, which is based on the actual or perceived traits or characteristics of that person, which: …
(2) Has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person’s physical or mental health;
(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person’s academic performance, employment or other community activities or responsibilities;
(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person’s ability to participate in or benefit from any academic, professional or community-based services, activities or privileges; or
(5) Has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation to that person within an academic or professional community.
The law is sold on the back of tragedy, like the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi. So what if we don’t know why he committed suicide, when we can easily point to Dharun Ravi and lay blame. After all, this removes the taint from everything else that happened in Clementi’s life that contributed to the decision, all the things that aren’t obvious to outsiders who demand easy answers to all questions. We have a bad guy to blame and we’re damn well going to use it.
Of course, it’s all different when it’s Us saying mean things about Them. They deserve it. We’re justified. We have a good reason to speak ill of them, but they never have a reason to hurt our feelings. After all, we’re good, by definition, and that makes them bad. We’re right. They’re wrong. Why can’t they just pass a law that makes this clear, that we can speak our minds because we would never abuse our rights, but they can’t because they aren’t good like us, and don’t deserve to speak their minds. Isn’t that how laws work?
The quagmire is growing. It’s growing before our eyes, with possibly well-intended but more likely pandering politicians showing how they can desperately fix every problem, real or perceived, with their sledgehammer painted in colors designed to appeal to an ignorant public. The public will love the idea of these laws as they’re sold to explain how no evil bully will ever harm another Clementi. Of course, no good person will ever reveal another evil liar, even if that liar happens to be a politician.
There’s a point to all the free speech stuff, as there is often some bad that has to be absorbed if you want the good. It works both ways. And it’s not according to whatever you, personally, think is good or bad. The judge isn’t going to give you a call and ask for your opinion before deciding whether to toss the case or throw the bum in prison. Yes, you think he should, but he won’t. Trust me on this.
At some particularly foolish moment in time, somebody got it into their head that hurt feelings were just as terrible as a bullet to the head. They’re not. Somebody decided that nobody should ever feel badly because of something another person said. Forget that archaic “sticks and stones” rhyme. Everything is painful. Make it stop. No matter what the price, make it stop.
No one disputes that bullying, whatever that is, happens. No one questions that it shouldn’t. But the cure can be worse than the disease. These laws don’t just stop bullying (if indeed they stop bullying at all), but the critically important speech that calls out stupid, evil, nasty people and their ideas. You don’t like bullying, but do you like evil people being able to do what they want without anyone knowing?
It’s happening before your eyes. Watch the fungus grow.