Deborah Simmons was right to criticize an overly broad anti-bullying bill that may be approved by the D.C. Council (“Anti-bully legislation misguided,” Web, Oct. 30).
While the bill’s speech restrictions are aimed at unspecified “harm” or “disruption,” they could be interpreted so broadly as to violate court rulings such as Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001). That ruling declared “there is no categorical exception” to the First Amendment for speech in school that is “harassing” or causes trivial emotional harm, and that offensive speech on political topics is protected against harassment bans.
The bill’s open-ended restriction on references to people’s “distinguishing characteristics” is unconstitutionally vague under rulings like Botts v. State (2004). The bill’s violation of the First Amendment is even clearer as applied to adults in public parks and at the University of the District of Columbia, since adults and college students have broader free speech rights than high school students.