Sticks and Stones

Illinois Strikes Down Safe Space, Hurt Feelings Law

The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down anti-free speech provisions of “stalking” and “cyber-stalking” statutes that criminalized speech that would cause a person to “suffer emotional distress.”

Writing on the Washington Post, First Amendment law expert Eugene Volokh detailed how the statutes criminalized:

  1. “knowingly engag[ing] in [2 more or acts] directed at a specific person,”
  2. including “communicat[ing] to or about” a person,
  3. when the communicator “knows or should know that this course of conduct would cause a reasonable person to”
  4. “suffer emotional distress,” defined as “significant mental suffering, anxiety or alarm.”

The statute, writes Volokh, excludes “an exercise of the right to free speech or assembly that is otherwise lawful.”

The law effectively banned any form of speech “about a person” that caused a person’s feelings to be hurt.

On November 30, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the heavy-handed provisions for their unconstitutional nature, which affected speech both political and non-political.

The court concluded, in Volokh’s words, that the statute is a “content-based speech restriction, and thus presumptively unconstitutional,” adding that “The statute isn’t limited to speech that falls within the exception for true threats of illegal conduct.”

“The court therefore had no occasion to decide one of the issues argued in the case, which is whether the government may punish statements that negligently put someone in fear of being attacked by the speaker, or whether the threats exception extends only to statements that recklessly, knowingly, or purposefully put someone in fear,” writes Volokh.

According to Volokh, the court adds that the struck-down statute is “unconstitutionally overbroad,” as it “potentially covers a wide range of constitutionally protected speech,” including both political speech and non-political speech and not restricted to “one-to-one communications.”

The court stated that the law could be used to ban a person from attending town hall meetings if he complained about or advocated a boycott of a local business, which in turn caused emotional distress to the business owner.

In other words, no one would be allowed to say even potentially negative things about anyone, or anything—not even a business entity or a political party.

Reality is more absurd than the “Safe Space” episode of South Park.

Source: Washington Post.

Photograph courtesy of Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

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