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Symbols of Hate Bill Passes Assembly

Legislation regulating “symbols of hate” at the local government level is on its way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signature.

A.5402 was passed during an end-of-session marathon meeting recently. The Assembly vote was 138-10 with Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, both voting in favor of the bill. The Senate version of the bill was passed in late May.

Fire districts, volunteer fire companies, police departments and schools would not be allowed to display symbols or hate or similar images, or have personal property inscribed with symbols of hate unless the images are in a book, museum or are otherwise educational or historical. Hate symbols are defined in the legislation as symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.

“I think it was Paul who was saying, “It’s lawful to hate, but if it offends somebody don’t do it.” That’s the policy we should have, shouldn’t we, in government? We should be fair and we should be open and respectful for everybody. So I’ll support this but I am extraordinarily concerned that we be very very careful when we try to deal with what are very subjective perceptions that one person sees as a symbol of faith, like the Star of David, and another person sees as a hate symbol. So we just need to be very sensitive to that. As a general rule all of our municipalities should avoid those types of symbols.”

Many Republicans in the Assembly and Senate took issue with language in the statute that lists examples of symbols of hate but includes the term “but not limited to” as well as no language determining how disagreements are to be adjudicated.

Those issues led Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, to vote against A.5402.

“I’m going to vote no on this bill,” Walczyk said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for a local municipality or any governmental entity to display the flag of the losers of the Civil War or the losers of World War II or any very clear symbol of hate that we agree is not cool as a local government or any governmental entity to display. I think those are the obvious ones. But just the dialogue around this chamber tonight is suggesting to me that we might be opening up our municipalities to a lot of different types of lawsuits because of the varying opinion about what might be considered a symbol of hate. Even the sponsor the bill could not say the thin blue line flag is not a symbol of hate. So leaving the door open for your police department or your fire department that wants to be proud to be a firefighter or a police officer and have that on a flag, I would say in my district it’s not a symbol of hate. Somewhere else may consider it. I don’t want to open them up to frivolous lawsuits in the state of New York.”

Several Democrats pointed back to Justice Potter Stewart’s famous line about pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

“If we don’t understand our history we cannot do better in the future,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Glen Cove. “We must do better in the future. The Star of David is a symbol of hatred? Interesting. It’s a symbol of hate in Gaza. It’s a symbol of hate in KKK conventions. It’s not a symbol of hatred in the United States. I am somewhat appalled that was used as some sort of example of the lack of objectivity, of subjectivity. This is an important bill. I am very pleased to vote for it. We must get beyond the hatred we have in this nation. This is an issue that divides us substantially, philosophically, in our political parties. And I am very pleased to be part of a political party that does not believe in the defense of hatred. We cannot yell fire in a crowded movie theater. There is nothing novel or unique about that. We are in a crisis mode. We damned well better wake up.”

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