Editor’s note: This commentary by John Klar originally appeared at Conservative Truth.
Vermont is a crucible for Critical Race Theory (CRT), whose proponents have persistently attempted to erode established free speech principles in the name of eliminating “hate speech.” The United States Supreme Court has clearly delineated constitutional law regarding hate speech, yet Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has exploited COVID Executive Orders to impose this unconstitutional CRT agenda.
On June 1, after COVID had largely subsided in Vermont, Scott issued Amended and Restated Executive Order 02-20, which declared: “the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted racial inequities across the United States, including in Vermont” (where 1.4% of the population is black) … the State must and will continue to address the challenges of achieving racial, ethnic and cultural equity across the State … COVID-19 and other emergencies demonstrate that disparities in times of crisis are reflective of disparities in times of prosperity, and that we must actively work to reduce structural inequities to ensure that no community is more vulnerable than another based on immutable factors such as race or ethnicity…[W]e must bring state leaders, agencies and interested parties together from across Vermont to examine existing law on hate crimes.”
Implicit in this Order is that the First Amendment, and the Constitution itself, are barriers to “achieving racial, ethnic and cultural equity.” This is classic critical race theory.
Scott’s COVID edict implicitly admits this is unconstitutional. His “Equity Task Force” is commissioned to:
Review current state and federal law on hate speech and freedom of speech and consider: a. Changes to state law that would facilitate prosecuting harassment, hate speech and other bias-motivated crimes; and b. Changes to State law necessary to ban Confederate flags or other similarly incendiary flags/images from being displayed in places that receive state funding. If all such proposed changes are determined by the Task Force to be highly likely to be found by a state or federal court to unconstitutionally restrict speech, after consultation with experts in constitutional law, the Task Force shall identify the entity most appropriate to conduct training and education in this regard.
All of these proposals do unconstitutionally restrict speech, under established law. The government can’t ban confederate flags based upon “receipt of state funding” — that is unconstitutional content (and viewpoint) discrimination, barred by existing precedent. Moreover, the pretext of COVID to ban “incendiary flags/images” is preposterous. What of art, or political satire? Was the journalism of Charlie Hebdo “incendiary”?
Public officials audaciously calling citizens racists with neither evidence nor accountability is now commonplace in Vermont, as is private “doxxing” and attacks on numerous individual Vermonters. Such attacks are explicitly encouraged by a hateful, racist ideology that seeks to “coerce others to freedom” in the name of justice. Free speech is being systematically strangulated.
A core tenet of CRT is that free speech has historically been employed to oppress minorities, and is thus a weapon of oppression. Therefore, no opposition to CRT may be broached — it is verboten! Understanding this is key to appreciating what is unfolding in America.
Scott’s effort to “ban hate speech” seeks to open the door to the ultimate hate ideology. It will silence citizens while sowing bitter resentment, which resentment itself will be stifled. This is already happening in Vermont and growing worse daily.
The U.S. Supreme Court has defined the boundaries of free speech: that is the law, binding on all government action. If Gov. Scott and BLM wish to introduce a new amendment to the United States Constitution to override the Supreme Court’s rulings, that is the legal path to change the Bill of Rights, not sneaky COVID orders that aggressively trundle well-established liberties.
Vermonters will defy this unconstitutional edict, not because they support hate speech, but because they support clearly established liberties and the rule of law, which provide that the Supreme Court’s decisions are binding, even for governors. And if any incendiary image should be banned, it is BLM flags at Vermont schools and public buildings, already a disgrace to free speech liberties.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.