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Opinion

Kaminsky bill at odds with First Amendment

Beachgoers along the South Shore were shocked and

Beachgoers along the South Shore were shocked and angered to see a plane overhead towing a banner with a swastika on it.

This was featured in The Point, the editorial board's daily newsletter for insiders. To subscribe, click here.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky jumped into the Senate’s legislation pool with a splash this week, introducing a bill that would outlaw the public display of swastikas as a felony hate crime.

Kaminsky told The Point he sponsored similar legislation in the Assembly last year. And, shortly after he was sworn in as a senator, Kaminsky is trying from the other chamber. His bill comes nearly a year after then-Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray advocated the same thing. Murray was responding to the International Raelians, a group that flew banners with the swastika along ocean beaches last summer in what it saw as an effort to take back the symbol as one of peace, rather than hate.

Kaminsky’s measure likens the display of a swastika to the burning of a cross. “It’s not just any symbol,” Kaminsky said. “It has cultural significance attached to it that connotes fear and terror.” And, he contended, the bill doesn’t violate freedom of speech. “The First Amendment matters greatly,” he said. “But the First Amendment does have limits.”

State law bars anyone from painting or etching a swastika on any property – public or private—without the owner’s permission. It’s a felony, and comes with tougher penalties than other graffiti laws. But the law doesn’t prevent someone from displaying a swastika on his or her property or from flying a plane with a swastika banner.

Kaminsky said he was primarily looking to target aerial displays or billboards, but admitted that his bill could have a broader impact, for instance, on property owners who display a Nazi flag on their front porches.

Nothing is different about the guarantee of free speech to change our minds since Murray's proposed ban last year. Click here to read what we said then.

 

This was featured in The Point, the editorial board's daily newsletter for insiders. To subscribe, click here.

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