The ACLU of Virginia is urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto two bills approved by the 2017 General Assembly that would hurt free speech rights, and two that would allow LGBT discrimination.
Details of the bills are as follows:
- House Bill 1791 would make it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison to encourage people to engage in peaceful protest if the resulting demonstration erupts into “riotous” acts against a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician. The penalty for actually committing those acts would be no more than a year in jail. “This is a clear attempt to chill the exercise of free speech by frightening people out of even talking about organizing a protest,” said ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. The ACLU-VA’s letter to the governor on HB1791 was sent on Friday.
- House Bill 2025 and Senate Bill 1324 are identical bills that would sanction discrimination against LGBT Virginians — including by government contractors and grantees in performing publicly funded services and in places of public accommodation — and would interfere with their fundamental right to marry. If signed by the governor, the legislation would allow religious-based organizations to deny programs and services to people in a same-sex marriage based on a “religious or moral belief that marriage is or should be between one man and one woman.” The governor vetoed a similar bill in 2016. “We must continue to reject efforts to use religion as a justification to discriminate against anyone,” Gastañaga said. “Freedom of religion is not the freedom to impose your religion on anyone, nor the freedom to be accorded special protections not accorded other beliefs,” she added. The ACLU-VA’s letter on these bills sent Tuesday was jointly signed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
- House Bill 2191 would require local school divisions to notify parents anytime educational materials include “sexually explicit content” as defined by the government in this legislation. This language is overly broad, and clearly will result in unconstitutional censorship. The governor vetoed a similar measure in 2016. “This bill would threaten the ability of local school divisions and teachers to include in the curriculum a wide range of educationally valuable materials,” the ACLU-VA’s letter sent Thursday, which was co-signed by nine other free speech organizations, states. “What advocates of these bills fail to understand is there are parents with different points of view who want their children to have the benefit of a curriculum that is inclusive of this material, and that current rules governing controversial materials offer a balanced approach that respects the rights of all parents equally,” added Gastañaga.
The ACLU of Virginia also had asked the governor to reject House Bill 1468, which would require staff at local jails to hold undocumented immigrants for an additional 48 hours after they are set to be released so Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can take them into custody. This would be unconstitutional, and the governor on Friday acted affirmatively on the ACLU-VA’s request for a veto.