As a person of Jewish heritage whose first language was Hebrew, Laura Spehar said she’s more familiar with the feeling of fear than the feeling of being included.
That’s why, she said, the city’s inclusion resolution is so important.
“No one will ever understand the power of hate speech better than people of ethnicity, gender difference or sexual orientation differences,” Spehar told the mayor and City Council on Monday. “We know all too well what can happen when speech ignites violence.”
The resolution “means the absolute world to people like me: a resident that may speak a different first language — mine was Hebrew — may celebrate different holidays and not always feel included in a town they love so very much.”
The Anacortes City Council voted 6-1 Monday to approve a resolution declaring a citywide policy of inclusion. The resolution “rejects and condemns” acts of racism, harassment, intimidation, and other forms of bullying, as well as “acts of hate speech.”
City Councilman Matt Miller voted “no,” saying that including “hate speech” in the resolution is “a slippery slope too far” because speech is protected by the First Amendment and “everyone holds their own definition of what hate speech is.”
The resolution does not make hate speech a crime or impose penalties. It is a policy statement: “The City Council and Mayor declare it to be the policy of the City that our City is accessible and open to everyone; to vigorously oppose all acts of racism, harassment, intimidation, bullying, and hate speech toward anyone; and to provide equal access to our local government to all persons in our City.”
Resident Doug Thurber spoke against the resolution, calling it a first move to limit speech. “Historically, the next step is to outlaw selected words and assign penalties,” he said. “Part of liberty is free speech, and it should not be abridged as per the First Amendment, 1791 … I reject even the most well-meaning proclamations that conflict with constitutional guarantees.”
Eight residents, including state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, spoke in favor of the resolution. She said hate speech and freedom of speech are very different.
“You see it in the way those phrases ultimately can lead to violence,” she said.
The resolution is “a statement of affirmation about the differences that exist in our community and the people that do deserve that extra level of protection because historically they have been marginalized and victimized in many, many ways,” she said.
“And so when we come together and say that, as a community, what we stand for is the ability for people to feel safe and protected and that our elected officials believe in that safety and protection as well, then that’s a positive message that should be resonating throughout our town.”
The original resolution was written by council members Bruce McDougall, Carolyn Moulton and Anthony Young, with the assistance of the Rev. Terry Kyllo, director of Neighbors in Faith, which works to build relationships and understanding between Christians and Muslims. A vote on that resolution, introduced Oct. 14, was postponed because of Miller’s concerns. Councilmen Ryan Walters, Eric Johnson and Miller worked together on a revision, but Miller said he was only “97%” satisfied.
The resolution was spurred in part by the finding this summer of a hangman’s noose in a tree at Cap Sante Park and the display of a Nazi swastika at a vendor’s booth during Shipwreck Day.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the hangman’s noose is “a symbol connected to lynching (and) is one of the most powerful visual symbols directed primarily at African-Americans,” while the Nazi swastika is “a symbol of hate, anti-Semitism and infamy.”