(CN) – Pennsylvania passed a law that lets courts silence any speech that causes “mental anguish,” a federal complaint alleges, calling such prior restraint “an intolerable infringement” of the First Amendment.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the Revictimization Relief Act this past October, weeks after Goddard College in Vermont aired a prerecorded commencement speech from a convicted alumnus.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was 30 years into his sentence for the 1982 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, and Faulkner’s widow told reporters at the time that his speech was “an outrage.”
Prison Legal News joined 10 other groups and individuals, including four inmates, on Jan. 8 with a federal complaint that say the so-called “Silencing Act” ensnares them.
“Each engages in speech that it is in the public’s interest to encourage, not silence,” the complaint filed in Harrisburg states.
Twenty-three of the complaint’s 44 pages are dedicated to describing the various plaintiffs.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint for the groups with Amy Ginesnsky of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia.
They note that other statutes take months or years to craft, but that the Silencing Act went from a re-election-campaign idea to law in three short weeks.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams are named as defendants.
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