Raps & blogs: true threats or protected speech?
The First Amendment grants all Americans freedom of speech, whether oral, written, posted online or through other means of electronic communication. You may be argumentative, rude, insulting or even vile. But our right to free speech is not absolute or unlimited. Several recent cases provide examples of restrictions on self-expression.
Florida rapper, 20-year-old Antavio Johnson, wrote the song “Kill Me a Cop” and posted it on MySpace. In it, he sings “I’m-ma kill me a cop one day” and names two police officers. By making a specific threat against named persons, Antavio committed a crime. He pleaded no contest to threatening charges and was sentenced to two years in prison.
In another case, blogger Hal Turner, allegedly posted the following statements directed at three federal judges: “Let me be the first to say this plainly: these three judges deserve to be killed,” and “Observe the Constitution or die.” Turner included their names, photos, phone numbers, work addresses, and a photo and map of the federal courthouse in Chicago where they work. Again real threats to hurt someone are not protected speech. Turner was arrested in June, 2009, and faces criminal charges for his postings.
In Arizona, a 28-year-old pastor preached a sermon in August, 2009, titled “Why I hate Barack Obama.” Steve Anderson leads the Faithful Word Baptist Church where he prays for the death of the President. Anderson was quoted saying “I’m going to pray he dies and goes to hell” because of his pro-choice stance on abortion. The United States Secret Service is aware of the comments and has stated that “an appropriate follow up will be conducted.” [photo from faithfulwordbaptist.org]
What do you think of these cases? Should you be allowed to say anything you’d like as long as you don’t physically threaten anyone? What about cyberbullying - where do you draw the line between expression and an actual threat to do harm?