1st Amendment News

Bill introduced in Congress to outlaw display of nooses

A Texas congresswoman had introduced a bill to make it a crime to display nooses to intimidate or harass others. -db

First Amendment Center
January 28, 2011
By David L. Hudson Jr.

For the fourth straight year, a congresswoman from Texas has introduced a bill that would criminalize the display of nooses with the intent to intimidate or harass others.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced the Noose Hate Crime Act of 2011, H.R. 221, which provides: “Whoever, with intent to harass or intimidate any person because of that person’s race, color, religion, or national origin, displays a noose in public shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.”

Jackson Lee has introduced this bill each year since 2008, after a noose was displayed in response to the Jena Six controversy in Louisiana.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the bulk of a Virginia cross-burning statute in Virginia v. Black. The Court ruled that displaying a cross with the “intent to intimidate” meant that the law targeted only those displays of crosses that constituted true threats.

Jackson’s measure on nooses also contains the key “intent to intimidate” language.

Several states have anti-noose statutes.

California prohibits the hanging of a noose on public or private property with the intent to terrorize others.

In Louisiana and Virginia, it is a crime to display a noose on private or public property or on a public highway with the intent to intimidate.

New York provides that display a noose on public or private property of another constitutes “aggravated harassment.”

The District of Columbia criminalizes the display of certain emblems — and specifically mentions the noose and Nazi swastika — where done to “injure, intimidate or interfere with others’ civil rights.

Supporters of such state laws and Jackson’s federal legislation argue that the measures target unprotected true threats, not protected speech. True threats are a recognized exception to the First Amendment.

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