ACLU Urges Georgia Lawmakers to Reject Unnecessary Bill Expanding Georgia’s Already Overbroad and Excessive Terrorism Laws

Group Says SB 523 Would Further Threaten the Free Speech Rights of People in Georgia

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
February 22, 2024 1:00 pm

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ATLANTA –This week, the Georgia General Assembly will consider SB 523, a bill that, if enacted, would expand Georgia’s already misused terrorism laws and needlessly create two new felony crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia urge lawmakers to vote NO on this dangerous bill.

If passed, SB 523 would make it a crime in Georgia to provide “material support or resources” for “terrorism.” The law would criminalize support to federally-designated “foreign terrorist organizations,” which is already a crime under federal law. It also criminalizes broadly defined “acts of terrorism,” sweeping in people involved in low-level and entirely domestic crimes. Violating either prohibition would be punishable by up to two decades in prison. The bill’s broad definitions and severe penalties raise constitutional concerns about its implications for civil liberties and rights.

“There’s no need for Georgia to create expansive new felonies with harmful implications for our rights and liberties,” said Christopher Bruce, policy and advocacy director at ACLU of Georgia. “Georgia lawmakers must protect the rights of their constituents by voting against SB 523 and any legislation that further constrains those rights.”

Terrorism laws in Georgia have already been used to stigmatize, surveil, and investigate people who engage in political protest and exercise their First Amendment rights. Just last year, Georgia’s Attorney General used state terrorism, anti-racketeering, and money laundering laws to investigate and charge dozens of people protesting the construction of a $90 million Atlanta police center known as “Cop City.”

This unprecedented use of state laws to punish dissent is exactly the kind of overreach rights groups warned about when Georgia’s legislature amended its domestic terrorism law in 2017 to add a harsher punishment — up to 35 years — to property crimes that were already illegal, simply because of accompanying political expression critical of government policy.

“SB 523 reflects a disturbing nationwide trend of state lawmakers passing overbroad and unnecessary terrorism laws that can be wielded as a political tool against protest and dissent,” said Charlie Hogle, staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project. “Our country already has a long and painful record of abusive and discriminatory material support investigations and prosecutions against Muslims, charities, and civil society organizations in the post-9/11 era. Lawmakers should reject these laws, not replicate or worsen them.”

Over the past 20 years, the ACLU has challenged or filed amicus briefs in numerous material support cases in which the government infringed on or violated free expression or association rights.

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