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Correcting Right-Wing Media On New York City’s Anti-Hate Law — Does It Really Threaten Free Speech? [Opinion]

New York City has passed a new anti-hate law that aims to prevent discrimination and promote tolerance within the city — but judging by the headlines put out by some conservative-leaning news sites, you’d think there was an all-out attack on First Amendment speech rights.

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

“Say ‘illegal alien’ in New York City, and you could pay a $250K fine,” reads one columnist’s screed from the Washington Times. “City bans calling someone an ‘illegal alien’ out of hate,” reads another from the New York Post.

Even CNN is misleading with its headline, which purports, “You can now be fined up to $250,000 if you call someone an ‘illegal alien’ in New York City.”

None of those headlines gives the true account of what’s actually going on.

Here are the facts: the city did indeed pass a new ordinance that could result in a fine as high as $250,000 if someone says an unkind comment to people in a racist fashion. But it only applies to certain people — your racist uncle needn’t worry, because he’s still likely able to cuss out whoever he wants without any repercussions (but honestly, you should have a talk with him about that).

Who is affected by the new law? Basically, business owners or workers who want to act racist toward customers. The new policy, as outlined by the city’s Human Rights Commission, affects individuals insettings of “public accommodations, employment, and housing,” per the press release put out by the city.

Such discrimination was already against the law, if performed in a direct rather than verbal manner. The new policy simply enforces existing discrimination policy, but in a way in which a business-owner’s or landlord’s speech, for example, could be deemed as a threat to others.

Harassing a group of restaurant patrons for speaking a language other than English, telling customers to “go back” to their home country, or threatening to call Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on a tenant or their family members, all fall under the purview of the new law.

Making a distasteful racist comment on the sidewalk while you’re out-and-about? Not a crime. Using racism to intimidate others within your business? That’s what the new policy seeks to curb.

To be sure, the new policy could face legal challenges in the future. But the depiction by right-wing media (and some that aren’t so far to the right, too), that the law infringes on a person’s right to speech, is wrong. The law merely seeks to curb ways in which businesses can discriminate against employees or customers — and that’s a good thing to try to limit.



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