Washington has mistakenly joined a handful of other states in what appears to be a coordinated effort to battle the First Amendment.
A proposal to prohibit protesters from wearing masks or hoods during demonstrations is so obviously unconstitutional, it’s a wonder state Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, thought it was a good idea.
The Legislature already decided to not even give a hearing to a related proposal from Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, earlier in the session. That one would have made it a crime for protesters to cause economic disruption, such as blocking railroad tracks.
The First Amendment is a powerful protection of the right to free speech and all manner of peaceful protest, masked or unmasked. But the people of Washington state already know that.
Lawmakers have much bigger problems to solve right now, such as passing a state budget and answering the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision on school funding.
So why are these bills popping up in our state this year? According to the National Lawyers Guild, anti-protesting legislation is a national trend, partially tied to protests after the presidential election.
Lawmakers in at least 19 states have proposed bills that would criminalize or penalize protesting in various ways. A handful focus on tampering with infrastructure or trespassing. Missouri also proposed a mask law. Among the most alarming bills is one that would remove liability from drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protesters.
Washington is used too often as a proving ground for ideas from out-of-state hyperpartisan groups — from protest bills on the right to Democracy vouchers on the left, which were embraced by Seattle but rejected by statewide voters.
The mask bill would make it illegal for someone to stand on a sidewalk, road, alley or any public area with his face covered, but it grants religious and holiday exemptions.
Would the bill exempt people who wear heavy makeup because they are making a choice to alter their appearance? What if someone decides to cover her face for modesty or health reasons, but is not associated with any religion?
Just like Sen. Ericksen’s bill, Honeyford’s bill should not get a hearing in any legislative committee. Let’s cut the marionette strings and prevent coordinated attacks on the First Amendment from gaining a foothold in Washington state.