A bill in the California legislature would ban members of hate groups or those who have expressed hate publicly to become police officers.
Assembly Bill 655, also known as the California Law Enforcement Accountability Reform or CLEAR Act, would require a background check for law enforcement candidates to investigate whether they belong to a hate group or have participated in affiliated activities, and if so, would disqualify them.
The existing law, according to the bill, specifies that candidates for peace officer positions must be of “good moral character.” The CLEAR act goes further by inquiring whether an individual has certain hateful opinions that can disqualify him/her.
This proposed law would require a background investigation to inquiry whether a candidate for specified peace officer positions has engaged in membership in a hate group, participation in hate group activities, or public expressions of hate, as those terms are defined.
Democrat Assemblyman Ash Kalra, who proposed the bill, said, “You have a constitutional right to have racist and bigoted views. You don’t have a constitutional right to be a police officer.”
The law would not just apply to prospective candidates, but could affect current law enforcement officers as well.
“The bill would require an agency to investigate, as specified, any internal complaint or complaint made by the public that alleges, as specified, that a peace officer engaged in membership in a hate group, participation in hate group activities, or public expressions of hate. The bill would provide that certain findings would be grounds for termination,” the bill states.
According to KCRA 3 News, opponents of the bill say it defines hate groups and expressions of hate too broadly, and would ban officers from expressing certain views or opinions.
Greg Burt, California Family Council Director of Capitol Engagement, believes the bill would target officers who generally hold conservative views.
“I think everyone can agree that no one wants cops serving us who belong to violent hate groups, but this bill goes far beyond that. It actually goes after individual cops who simply have conservative social views on issues like marriage. I think there’s a mistake in assuming that Christians who have conservative views on moral issues are going to be a threat to folks who disagree with them,” he said.
KCRA 3 interviewed legal professor Leslie Jacobs about the effect of the bill on constitutional protections of freedom of speech and association. She said that there would be “legal limits” to what memberships an officer could disclose.
“So, we’re really looking at a balance between the right to privacy or the right to speech and the government’s interest in being able to have the employee perform the job,” Jacobs said.
The hearing for the bill will be with the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 6.