State legislatures already clamping down on dissent and religious minorities


The impending Donald Trump administration is already emboldening state legislators to crack down on freedom of expression, religion, and protest across the United States.

Encouraged by the response to Donald Trump's election and the hard-right, white nationalist prospects for his cabinet, many Republican state legislators have begun promoting bills targeting immigrants, minority faiths, and freedom of assembly.

In Iowa, Republican Representative Bobby Kaufmann announced plans to introduce what he calls the “suck it up, buttercup” bill when the legislature resumes in January. The bill would target funding for state universities which offered extra counseling to students following the election. It would also add criminal penalties for protesters who block traffic on highways, following a large protest on I-80 in Iowa City.

Shutting down traffic is a protesting tactic that has increasingly gained traction in the past year, with Black Lives Matter protesters shutting down freeways in California, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Missouri. Such a bill would not only criminalize a constitutional right to peaceably assemble, but hand police further tools to disrupt and arrest protesters.

In Georgia, Republican Representative Jason Spencer announced a bill banning Muslim women from wearing a niqab in public areas, particularly while driving. The niqab veils most of a woman’s face, which Spencer argues is an inhibitor to identification for law enforcement and a safety hazard when driving.

Spencer also made the argument to local media outlet WSB-TV in Atlanta that the niqab was a concern for terrorism, though he did not specify how. Spencer withdrew his plans after facing public outcry and pressure from national groups.

And in Washington, a state that Hillary Clinton won by over 16 points, Republican Senator Doug Erickson announced a bill that would charge protesters with “economic terrorism” — and charge loosely defined “accomplices” with large fines. The bill would essentially add a charge of terrorism onto any property damage crimes that happen during the course of a protest, adding five years of prison time or a $10,000 fine.

The new sessions have not even begun yet, and Republican lawmakers are already feeling empowered to help the new administration with the task of punishing dissent and targeting religious minorities.

Challenges to bills passed during this era will face an uphill battle of a conservative Supreme Court and a Justice Department Trump hopes will be led by noted racist lawmaker Jeff Sessions. One thing is certain: they are just getting started.