In Idaho, an art exhibit was censored and teenagers were told they could not testify at some legislative hearings. In Washington state, a lawmaker has proposed creating a hotline so the government can track offensive bias statements as well as hate crimes. U Floridabloggers are fighting a bill that would force them to register with the state when they write posts critical of government officials.

Meanwhile, book bans and drag shows are becoming more common across the country.

“Right now, we’re seeing tremendous attacks on First Amendment freedoms across the country, at all levels of government. Censorship is spreading, and that is deeply concerning,” said Joe Kohn, director of legislative and policy affairs at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

“This year we are seeing a wave of bills aimed at enforcing drag performance, where mere gender non-conformity is enough to trigger a penalty. We are also seeing a wave of bills that regulate what can be in K-12 public and school libraries,” Cohn said. “On campuses, we track data on attempts to get faculty disciplined or even fired for speaking out or speaking out, and the numbers are staggering — the highest we’ve seen in our 20 years.”

First Amendment rights have been stable in America for decades, said Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, but in recent years many states have reverted to anti-speech tactics used by people like Sen. Joe McCarthy during the “Red fear” of the early 1950s.

McCarthy and others tried to silence political opponents by accusing them of being communists or socialists, using fear and public accusations to suppress basic rights to free speech. The term “McCarthyism” has become synonymous with unprovoked attacks on free speech, and the US Supreme Court has cited these phenomena in several decisions involving the First Amendment.

“We’re seeing a concerted wave that we haven’t seen in decades,” Paulson said, pointing to states like Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for legislation to criminalize drag shows, limit the pronouns teachers can use for students, allowing parents to determine which books can be in libraries, and blocking some history classes entirely.

“It’s pretty mind-blowing that so many politicians are waving the flag of freedom, doing everything they can to infringe on Americans’ rights to free speech,” Paulson said.

Still, no political group has a monopoly on censorship — aggression is rising across the spectrum, Cohn said.

The hotline bill in Washington state, which was considered in committee earlier this year, was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Javier Valdez and supported by several groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Urban League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and others. Its aim was to help the state collect information on hate crime and bias incidents, and provide support and compensation to victims at a time when reports of hate crime are on the rise.

Opponents, including the Foundation for Civil Rights and Free Speech, said they feared it would chill protected speech because it covers both criminal behavior and offensive biased statements.

Hate speech can be harmful and repugnant, but is generally protected by the First Amendment. The Department of Homeland Security and experts who study extremism have warned that hate speech could be seen as a call to action by extremist groups.

Oregon created a similar bias hotline in 2019. In 2021, it received nearly 1,700 calls, with nearly 60% of reported incidents not meeting criminal standards, according to an annual report from the office of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

“People in power target their political opponents, so who gets silenced depends on where you are on the map and the individual context,” Cohn said.

Artist Katrina Mykut experienced this firsthand last week, when artwork she’s exhibited in more than two dozen states over the past decade was unexpectedly censored at a small public school in Lewiston, Idaho.

Maikut uses embroidery to emphasize and subvert historically narrow ideas of wifehood and motherhood. She was hired to curate an exhibit at Lewis-Clark State College on health issues such as chronic disease, pregnancy and gun violence.

But on March 2, the day before the exhibit opened, Maykut and two other artists were told that some of their work would be removed because of administrators’ concerns that it violated Idaho’s No State Abortion Funding Act.

The 2021 law prohibits publicly funded organizations from promoting abortion or taking other actions that could be seen as educating or counseling someone in favor of abortion.

Maikut’s cross-stitch embroidery of misoprostol and mifepristone pills, which can be used together to induce an abortion in early pregnancy, was removed from the exhibit, along with a plaque detailing Idaho’s abortion laws.

Also removed were four video and audio documentaries by artist Lydia Nobles that showed women talking about their own abortion experiences. And part of artist Michelle Harney’s series of letters from the 1920s to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was expunged from the show.

“It’s shocking and surreal to be subjected to this kind of censorship,” said Maykut, who envisions her art as educational rather than confrontational. “If the most even-handed, bipartisan fiction on the subject is censored, then everything will be censored.”

Logan Fowler, a spokesman for LCSC, said the school made the decision after consulting with attorneys about whether the art display might violate the law. Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug, the law’s author, said Tuesday that it is not intended to “prevent open discussion” of abortion — only to prevent tax dollars from being used to promote it.

The censorship of the art exhibition came just two months after another controversial decision by Skaug. As the Idaho House Judiciary and Rules chairman, Skaug announced in January that people under the age of 18 would not be allowed to testify before his committee. Soon this example was followed by another chairman of the republican committee.

Legislators have the ability to limit committee testimony and often use these limits to keep the legislature’s work focused and timely. However, the age limit on speech was a first for the state.

A group of teenagers started protest actions by phone and e-mail.

“There is a clear lack of foresight in politicians who seek to destroy the votes of those who will one day elect and ultimately replace them,” a group of 32 high school leaders wrote in a joint opinion sent to news outlets across the state. . “We’re asking Idaho Republican leaders, what are you so afraid of?”

Lawmakers eventually changed their rules, allowing youths to testify as long as they signed permission slips from their parents or guardians.

Skaug said the rule is needed so parents know when their children are leaving school to testify at the State House. He still intends to give preference to older residents when time to testify is limited, but said he is not aware of any younger people actually being denied the opportunity to testify this year.

For Cohn, the efforts in Idaho and elsewhere reflect the dangers of trying to limit the expression of people who hold opposing views.

“We must be ever vigilant if we want our culture of individual freedom to prevail,” he said. “Bad ideas are better fought through debate and dialogue than through government censorship.”

Previous articleMichael Cohen to resume testimony in Trump probe into hush money
Next articleIs Lindsay Lohan pregnant? Actress announces baby ‘coming soon’ after marrying Bader Shammas in July