SACRAMENTO – A Bay Area assemblyman wants to ban from service police officers and police officer candidates who are members of hate groups or have used hate speech in the past, even in “a private discussion forum” online. Yet the definition of a “hate group” and “hate speech” used by Assemblyman Ash Kalra’s (D – San Jose) new bill, AB 655, is incredibly broad. Not only does it include armed militia groups and white supremacists promoting “domestic terrorism,” it also includes police officers expressing conservative religious or political views on abortion, marriage, and gender or with membership in a political party or church that does.
One legal expert said this “appalling” bill, would “usher in a new era of McCarthyism” where Muslim, Catholic, Evangelicals, and even registered Republicans would be blacklisted from law enforcement jobs.
“Under the guise of addressing police gangs, the bill at the same time launches an inexplicable, unwarranted, and unprecedented attack on peaceable, conscientious officers who happen to hold conservative political and religious views,” wrote Pacific Justice Institute Senior Staff Attorney Matthew McReynolds. “Indeed, this is one of the most undisguised and appalling attempts we have ever seen, in more than 20 years of monitoring such legislation, on the freedom of association and freedom to choose minority viewpoints.”
According to a bill fact sheet provided by Kalra’s office, AB 655 is needed to root out “extremist infiltration” into our police departments as evidenced by “the apparent cooperation, participation, and support of some law enforcement,” gave to insurrectionists during the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. The document goes on to say that California sheriff departments all over the state have been “plagued by texting, email, and social media scandals where officers exchanged racist and homophobic messages.” AB 655 would require police candidates to receive a background check for “official membership in a hate group, participation in hate group activities, or other public expressions of hate.” Public complaints of employed police officers would result in the same investigation, “and if sustained, could lead to termination.”
So how broad is the bill’s definition of a hate group and hate speech? Here is the definition from the text of AB 655: “‘Hate group’ means an organization that, based upon its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities, supports, advocates for, or practices the denial of constitution constitutional rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
How is a “hate group” defined?
AB 655 defines hate speech with similar language. It states: “‘Public expression of hate’ means any explicit expression, either on duty or off duty and while identifying oneself as, or reasonably identifiable by others as, a peace officer, in a public forum, on social media including in a private discussion forum, in writing, or in speech, as advocating or supporting the denial of constitution constitutional rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
According to McReynolds, the breath of these definitions raise serious questions. Is the Catholic Church a hate group because it advocates rejecting the “constitutional rights of women to obtain an abortion?” Are all the churches that voiced support for Proposition 8, defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman, “hate groups” because they “opposed LGBTQ constitutional rights to marry?” Are Muslims banned from being officers because they attend a mosque that has “spoken out against homosexuality or gender equality?”
What about the California Republican Party that still has a family blank in its platform that says it “support[s] the two-parent family as the best environment for raising children, and therefore believe that it is important to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.” The platform also says that, “The Supreme Court’s ruling [on same-sex marriage] cannot and must not be used to coerce a church or religious institution into performing marriages that their faith does not recognize.” It would seem the Republican Party itself is a hate group according to AB 655.
“The rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution have been the topic of intense political debate for 200 years, and especially over the last several decades since the Supreme Court found a right to abortion in the Constitution in 1973,” said Greg Burt, Director of Capitol Engagement with the California Family Council. “Should the state now ban from public service qualified, fair-minded people who happen to hold religious or political views that conflict with controversial Supreme Court decisions on marriage and abortion? This is a blatantly unconstitutional violation of religious liberty and freedom of speech. It is also a tyrannical abuse of power from a politician seeking to ruin the lives of those he disagrees with.”
AB 655 is scheduled to be heard before the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 6, 2021.