A-hunting we will go never mind free speech

March 20, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- You might think the massive anti-crime bill that is headed to a vote in the House next week is all about things like building more prisons, executing more criminals and "three strikes and you're out."

L But it could be about something else: an end to free speech.

Last November, I wrote about the Senate version of the crime bill, which passed by a 95-4 vote.

One provision of that bill, slipped in at the last minute without a single word of debate or even a mention on the Senate floor, made it illegal to protest peacefully against hunting in America.

Under the provision, it would be against the law and punishable by up to $5,000 in fines to "interfere" with a hunter on federal lands.

(About one-third of the entire United States is federal land, and about 85 percent of federal land is open to hunting. Most big-game hunting in America takes place on federal land.)

Not only would speaking out against hunting be illegal, but even silent protest against hunting would be barred.

Holding up a picket sign that says "I oppose hunting" would be illegal, while holding up a picket sign that says "I favor hunting" would not be.

Further, the bill would give hunters the right to get an injunction barring anti-hunting speech from taking place.

But while the provision passed the Senate -- most senators, as it turned out, were unaware it had been slipped into the crime bill -- that was only the first hurdle.

The House also has to approve the provision or agree to it in a conference committee.

But unlike what happened in the Senate, lawmakers have been alerted in the House and some members of the House Judiciary Committee are going to start raising the alarm tomorrow.

Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., and at least six other members -- including Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the Civil and Constitutional Rights subcommittee -- are sending a letter to their colleagues condemning this provision of the Senate bill.

"This so called 'hunter-rights' provision, strongly opposed by a broad coalition of animal welfare, environmental and civil liberties groups, is clearly unconstitutional under established First Amendment principles and serves to accomplish no legitimate objective," the letter begins.

The letter also raises an issue that I noted in November: The Senate had extensively debated the issue of peaceful protest when it banned the blockading of abortion clinics, but spent not one minute debating peaceful protest as it applied to hunting.

"The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act seeks a balance between the right of abortion opponents to speak and demonstrate and the right of women to obtain an abortion," the Judiciary Committee and ranking minority member -- Joe Biden, D-Del., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah -- horse-traded behind closed doors.

That tactic won't work in the House, however.

But what might work is getting the provision made part of the final bill in a conference committee, when House and Senate members meet to work out differences between the two crime bills.

Which is why the letter from Schroeder and the other lawmakers urges members of the House not only to oppose the bill on the floor, but also "to oppose it in conference."

"We thus urge you," the letter concludes, "to vigorously oppose any attempt to turn this misguided, unnecessary and unconstitutional provision into law."

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