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Opinion: Beware bills that erode free speech

Provided by The Dominion Post: 

State legislators from Washington to Florida have proposed bills to crack down on protesters. That’s troubling, not only because of what some bills would do, but because of the cultural trend they reflect.

Two bills would protect drivers who hit protesters. They may not be intended to protect intentionally driving into people, but one is widely read as proposing just that, according to Spencer DesAutels, a Tennessean who was hit by a car while protecting demonstrators from traffic.

Other bills would charge demonstrators for policing costs and hold peaceful protesters responsible if other demonstrators became violent.

Some of the bills have already died in committee; others may yet be killed. Not all the bills are egregious on their face. One raises the fine for blocking traffic and impeding emergency vehicles to $200 and makes it a misdemeanor. Taken on its own, that’s reasonable.

But forcing protesters to risk prosecution if strangers marching alongside them commit crimes is egregious. Encouraging drivers to hit people is shocking.

This trend is being driven by Republican lawmakers. That’s striking, because much of the discussion of free speech lately has involved the campus left suppressing right-wing speech. But there are people on both sides who want to make it harder for their opponents to be heard.

The fact that challenges to free speech are coming from both sides suggests that as a culture, we are losing respect for this essential principle. But it also shows how the commitment to free expression can be restored by remembering that we all need it.

THIS EDITORIAL appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.

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