John Klar: Free speech confusion among Vermont legislators

Among the bevy of unconstitutional, unnecessary, offensive, Vermonter-hating bills being proposed by disconnected Vermont legislators is S.265, which seeks to imprison Vermonters for up to five years for threatening public officials, and removes an existing criminal protection for people charged by the state. This effort by this small cadre of leftwing extremists reminds me of a quote attributable to Thomas Jefferson about rebellion.

John Klar

I am using existing free speech laws while I still can. S.265 is unconstitutionally vague, and seeks to intimidate Vermonters and criminalize protected political speech. This insulting bill is motivated to silence angry Vermont parents who criticized derelict, unrepresentative school boards over the ongoing travesty of CRT, masks and vaccines, and trans-pronouns for kindergartners.

Drafters of Vermont bills don’t care about constitutionality despite their oaths, and the current Vermont Attorney General and Office of Legislative Counsel have repeatedly displayed an eager willingness to cooperate in drafting and enacting blatantly unconstitutional, repressive laws. S.265 is yet another assault on protected liberties by thugs determined to subjugate rather than serve Vermonters.

The S.265 draft states:

This bill proposes to expand the scope of the crime of criminal threatening to include threats of violence to third persons. This bill also proposes eliminating a person’s lack of intent, or inability, to carry out the threat as an affirmative defense.

Already the language is dishonest here: this bill seeks to create a special crime, with a greatly enhanced criminal sentence, for threats made under the bizarre new standard of inducing fear that “death or serious bodily injury will occur at a place of public accommodation.” Truth is indeed stranger than fiction — you can’t make up the stuff these people make up! Here’s the chief point for Vermonters: there are already extremely clear federal standards defining the contours of permissible speech, and this statute adds nothing except to encroach on them. It is designed to intimidate parents and citizens in a disgusting attack on longstanding liberties to criticize public officials. The Green Mountain Boys would have tarred and feathered the lot.

Oh, have I now scared the proponents of this bill, who fear accountability for their thuggery? Too bad. The seminal case on free speech and public officials in the nation of America is New York Times Company v. Sullivan. Sullivan concerned a libel case, but clearly established that public officials need to suck it up and take the heat when they try to bully voters.

Said the Court:

The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, “was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.” Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, 484. “The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes may be obtained by lawful means, an opportunity essential to the security of the Republic, is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system.” Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 369.

As a landmark decision that established free speech liberties as a foundation of any truly free society, Sullivan explained why school board and other Vermont officials who continue to suppress and gaslight Vermonters are constitutionally prevented from banning speech critical of their thuggery:

If judges are to be treated as “men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate,” Craig v. Harney, supra, 331 U. S., at 376, surely the same must be true of other government officials, such as elected city commissioners. … Earlier, in a debate in the House of Representatives, [James] Madison had said: “If we advert to the nature of Republican Government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the Government, and not in the Government over the people.”

Which is to say, “Shut up, pathetic legislators and school board members — if you can’t take the heat your controversial ideology causes, get out of the way so citizens can replace you with free speech supporters who can engage in open debate with civility.” All around us Vermonters are being silenced, denied a voice in hearings relating to a constitutional amendment (Proposal 5), rascally hunting restrictions, and many other bills. Do our new rulers think we will stand for this?

Again, the real motivator is resistance in Vermont to toxic, racist, anti-semitic Critical Race Theory, a eugenics-like ideology being forced on Vermont’s schoolchildren while the ideologues who have usurped Vermont government lie and deny that truth.

Sullivan declared that “the Constitution affords the citizen and the press an absolute privilege for criticism of official conduct.” (Concurring opinion). As further emphasized in that concurrence:

We would, I think, more faithfully interpret the First Amendment by holding that at the very least it leaves the people and the press free to criticize officials and discuss public affairs with impunity. This Nation of ours elects many of its important officials; so do the States, the municipalities, the counties, and even many precincts. These officials are responsible to the people for the way they perform their duties. While our Court has held that some kinds of speech and writings, such as “obscenity,” Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, and “fighting words,” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U. S. 568, are not expression within the protection of the First Amendment, freedom to discuss public affairs and public officials is unquestionably, as the Court today holds, the kind of speech the First Amendment was primarily designed to keep within the area of free discussion. To punish the exercise of this right to discuss public affairs or to penalize it through libel judgments is to abridge or shut off discussion of the very kind most needed. ….I doubt that a country can live in freedom where its people can be made to suffer physically or financially for criticizing their government, its actions, or its officials. “For a representative democracy ceases to exist the moment that the public functionaries are by any means absolved from their responsibility to their constituents; and this happens whenever the constituent can be restrained in any manner from speaking, writing, or publishing his opinions upon any public measure, or upon the conduct of those who may advise or execute it.” An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment.

S.265 is patently unconstitutional. Instead of silencing Vermonters, it should serve as a bullhorn that tyrants have arrived, and that that liberty tree may one day need watering again. Or maybe just some tar and feathering. Oh no, have I exceeded the bounds of this novel speech doctrine? Gee, I do hope so!

Here we see the greatest hypocrisy of all by those signing on for this Benedict Arnold bill: they would incarcerate parents criticizing CRT for five years; but those threatening DCF workers get only two!

The difficult balance in free speech threat cases is proving intent to intimidate (an important element of most crimes), which compels reference to the “reasonable” standard contained in this existing statute. If a subjective standard applied, anytime a Becca Balint or Dick McCormack claimed they were wetting their legislative pants over a mild threat, offenders would be carted off to jail. A “reasonable person” standard requires a court or jury to find that pretty much anybody would agree that certain speech was dangerous.

The Sullivan case told public officials like Balint to stop whining and start acting like grownups. New Yorker Becca Balint lacks any comprehension of basic free speech laws, yet is asking Vermonters to send her to Washington, D.C., to eliminate the U.S. Constitution as well.

Why doesn’t she just appoint herself “Queen Becca of the Green Mountains”? There would at least be a certain integrity in that.

John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Simon Gibbs
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14 thoughts on “John Klar: Free speech confusion among Vermont legislators

  1. The one characteristic that every single flat lander brings with them from the city, is fear, and a need to control what they THINK their neighbors might do, or FEAR what they might do, based on their urban and inner city experiences – thereby inviting those issues in to sit at the table, and exist, here in Vermont.
    ALL of these issues have BEEN IMPORTED. They did not exist before the flatlander privilaged elite brought their fear mongering to Vermont, and made babies of us all…or are trying to.
    The entrepreneurial spirit has been killed by our current legislators.
    The spirit of fun, play, and community has been killed by our current leaders and legislators.
    The Spirit of self-reliance and independence has been groomed, coerced and bullied into making sheep out of Vermonters.
    The cult of killing children to protect adults, and euthanize the elderly to protect themselves has been signed sealed and delivered to slave minded Vermonters.
    We’re already shipping Vermont inmates awaiting trial out of State… out of State out of mind? Is that the point? Ship the refugees in, and ship the dissenters out?
    Sound plan for Vermont’s future fekked approach to LIFE.
    If you have no clue what Vermont Life and living is, you should not be in a position of power to legislate Period.
    Free speech, free and independent thought, and peaceful protest ARE the legacy of Vermonters.
    Benning and others are working for the Chinese Communist Party – either knowingly, as a ‘useful idiot’, or knowingly, as a pay to player. He and his cronies.
    Made man – Satan whispered in Benning’s ear: If you push the script, we’ll take care of you.
    Anyone check Benning’s bank accounts lately?

  2. My first take on this was, well, if people are making threats against others then that should be prohibited. But is a proposed prison term of up to five years really proportionate? And what constitutes “threatening”? And when we talk of reasonable apprehensions of death or injury, who decides what’s “reasonable”? The folks who are scared of being challenged, do they get to “reasonably” decide that angry protesters are putting them in fear for their lives? The proposed law is open to abuse.

    If the Sullivan case covers instances of threatening speech, then why bother with this legislation unless its intent is to intimidate Vermonters from speaking up forcibly against policies with which they disagree?

    There’s a tide of growing censorship in America. I predict this will become stronger as the truth starts to come out on all sorts of things and the authorities feel the need to fight back to maintain their hold on power. These are the times that try men’s souls.

  3. So, are you suggesting that parents who are concerned for their children’s education and confront the school boards about curriculum are boors and thugs? I think not hardly. Since parents pay for the schools, they have a right and obligation to monitor and change the school’s education policies.

    As for the Michigan militia’s plan to kidnap the governor, you conveniently left out the part about the FBI involvement. Recent news articles place as many as 12 agents or informants who actually suggested and promoted the plan and devised the kidnapping. Either you were unaware or you meant to skip over that information.

    Your comment appears to be designed to suggest that somehow regular citizens who confront government officials will lead to the formation of militias. The reason for the people to redress our government is to avoid such things by allowing the governed to air their complaints. There are already laws to deal with aggressive behavior and threats of violence. How many more laws will we need to satisfy those who take no time to understand that human nature can not always be legislated. If if could we would have no murder, assaults, drugs or you name it. This law is about the stifling of free speech which is already deemed unconstitutional. Nice try!

  4. “The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands.”
    -Associate Justice Hugo L. Black

    “Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.”
    Thurgood Marshall-Supreme Court Justice

  5. Spineless elected officials, the old adage ” if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen ”

    Apparently, If you can’t cope with or handle the pressure in a given situation, you should remove yourself from that situation, you have the option to retire or quit or we can remove you as you
    are elected….but there again, when you have ” snowflakes ” in charge this is what you get !!

    Wake up people, they don’t care what you want or how you feel, you can get what you want
    all it takes is change, you have the power………………………….

  6. this same sort of thing happened with town boards in Michigan back in the late 70’s when Detroit was going belly-up. Tens of thousands of laid-off auto workers suddenly no longer the breadwinners sought to re-establish meaning in their life by forming or joining “militias.” Some of their members went a step further and started bullying town and county boards and individual members.

    None of the elected officials had run for office ever thinking they wouldn’t be serving a pretty homogeneous middle-American public and were stupefied and aghast to find themselves the targets of rants about patriotism and Communism by people who dressed like they’d just come off the firing line in some banana republic.

    I won’t say the ranting did nothing. 48 years later, Michigan militias invaded the state capitol over masking requirements and some members plotted to kidnap and kill the governor.

    What recourse should our elected school board members have against boors and thugs?

    • You do realize that it was the F.B.I. who conceived of and recruited a few vulnerable mentally troubled individuals to go along with the Michigan plot. More than 2/3 of the plotters were F.B.I. agents or informants.

    • Existing free speech laws are 1) very clear, and 2) adequately protective. What single incident has occurred in Vermont that makes you concerned? The fact is, the Legislature seeks to stifle existing free speech protections, solely because it doesn’t like school boards challenged with legitimate questions about CRT and trans-pronouns. Parents are gaslighted, and teachers are protected no matter what they do. So your question is upside-down: the real question is, “What recourse should our parents have against elected school board members who are boors and thugs”? The Legislature wishes to extinguish existing rights to perpetuate more thuggery, and you are raising a paper tiger argument — when parents threaten, existing laws cover it — just like the supposed “hate speech” laws Vermont seeks to pass — this is existing protected speech, per the US Supreme Court. Now they seek to make the Constitution hate speech. The “boors and thugs” are in office……

    • Look in the mirror Chuck Gregory…lengthy history of non-stop nonsense, so kindly return to VPO comment section as well as Fakebook – VTgraveDigger, Sevendaysvt, VPR comment sections where boorish thugs such as yourself are welcomed and celebrated…and take the rest of the Marxists and assorted traitors with you pls

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