“Organize a Protest, Lose your Home” Bill May be Dead

There are some Republicans in the Arizona legislature who are . . . well . . . let’s just say they are not students of the United States Constitution. In an effort to drive out and punish dissenters – that’s anyone who disagrees with their views and has the audacity to say it – Senator Sonny Borrelli (R – Lake Havasu City) introduced SB 1142.

Rioting is already illegal in Arizona. But the bill would make rioting an offense under Arizona’s racketeering law. That may not sound like such a big change, but consider what could, and probably would, happen if the bill became law. Two people plan a peaceful protest – let’s just say, for purposes of this example, the protest is aimed at opposing a new bill that will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment and free speech rights of citizens. Let’s also assume that during the course of the protest, a couple of neo-Nazis decide to turn public opinion away from the issue and throw a rock through a window, or throw a rock at one of the protesters.

Under those circumstances, the two organizers, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the property damage or any injuries, could be charged with conspiracy and a violation of the Arizona racketeering law. Their assets could be seized, and they could be sentenced, if convicted, to a felony prison term. All this without any evidence that the two planned or participated in any violence, or even that the violent acts were committed by legitimate protesters.

How would the bill affect us? In addition to effectively targeting free speech as a criminal activity, it would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on people speaking out, that is, exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech. And make no mistake about it, that was the entire purpose of the bill. The purported justification for the bill was to crack down on violent protests. In reality, the bill would simply crack down on protests . . . period!

Well, the Arizona Senate may have lost its mind, but cooler heads have prevailed. After the Senate approved SB 1142, the Speaker of the House, J.D. Mesnard, stated that he does not intend to consider the bill, meaning that the measure will not move forward. So the bill appears to be dead, and your First Amendment right to free speech has survived in Arizona . . . for now!

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