Massachusetts Bill Would Impose Prison Sentences For ‘Hate Speech’

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Should it be illegal to say something that may offend someone?

One bill (HD.4113) in the Massachusetts House of Representatives would outlaw it.

If passed, “An Act Prohibiting Hate Speech,” introduced into the legislature by state representative Bill Driscoll Jr. (D-Milton), could sentence people to up to one year in prison. The bill also calls for fining violators $500. Under the bill, so-called hate speech directed at someone because of the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability would qualify.

Although Driscoll filed the bill, he is not the bill’s sponsor. The bill was filed by petition; Clinton Graham, a Democrat from Milton who serves on the school committee for Blue Hills Regional Technical School, requested that Driscoll file the bill.  Blue Hills is a vocational-technical high school in Canton that serves 1,608 students from Avon, Braintree, Canton, Dedham, Holbrook, Milton, Norwood, Randolph, and Westwood. Graham has served on the Blue Hills school committee since 2016.

Here is the exact text of the proposed bill:


Chapter 269 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

Section 20. (a) As used in this section, the term “hate speech” shall mean speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, in circumstances in which the communication is likely to or does provoke violence.

(b) Whoever makes or circulates hate speech or causes hate speech to be made or circulated shall be punished by a fine of not less than $500 or by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 1 year or by both such fine and imprisonment.


The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that speech that may constitute hate speech in other countries is legally protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

In the 2017 Supreme Court case Matal v. Tam, the court unanimously ruled that “speech may not be banned on the grounds that it expresses ideas that offend.”

In the case, the U.S. Trademark Office declined Simon Tam’s request for a trademark for his band The Slants, arguing that the name was disparaging towards “persons of Asian descent.”

Massachusetts is the only state in the country where citizens have an explicit constitutional right to file bills directly in the state legislature, as the State Library of Massachusetts points out. The idea comes from English common law and first appeared in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties in 1641, and once again in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

The 1641 rule says (with period spelling):  “Every man whether Inhabitant or fforreiner, free or not free shall have libertie to come to any publique Court, Councel, or Towne meeting, and either by speech or writeing to move any lawfull, seasonable, and materiall question, or to present any necessary motion, complaint, petition, Bill or information, whereof that meeting hath proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and respective manner.”

And the current rendition from the 1780 state constitution reads:  “The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.”

No action has been taken on the hate speech bill yet.

It is not the first citizen petition bill filed in recent years to suppress speech. A bill filed in 2019 would have sentenced people to prison for up to six months for calling another person a “bitch,” as NewBostonPost previously reported. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary killed the bill by sending it to study.


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