Saturday, August 11, 2012

What are the Limits on Freedom of Speech?

I ask this question after I see the following story:

Republican Councilman Paul Smith, of Sterling Heights, Michigan, has found himself at the center of controversy after video of him holding a sign that depicted President Obama's head on a spike surfaced after being recorded at a Tea Party rally more than three years ago in April 2009. He also had other signs that included Nancy Pelosi with bullet holes in her head, and a noose around the neck of former Michigan Governor, Jennifer Granholm.
Shocking?  Not anymore.  Frankly, I'm not really surprised by what Republican representatives in our government do anymore.  Has this crossed the line or protected speech?  I'm not sure.  When it comes to the President, the supreme court ruling is clear.

Federal statute [prohibits] “any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States.” ...but [not] mere “political hyperbole.”
Are his signs "hyperbole"?  While the secret service is investigating this, has he broken the law?    It appears the its possibly not the case.  In the supreme court case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co:

“emotionally charged rhetoric . . . did not transcend the bounds of protected speech set forth in Brandenburg. . . . An advocate must be free to stimulate his audience with spontaneous and emotional appeals for unity and action in a common cause. When such appeals do not incite lawless action, they must be regarded as protected speech.
So it seems that violent rhetoric is not illegal unless violent action results from it.  At least from the previous ruling.  But to throw another wrench into these decisions, the ninth circuit court made the following ruling in Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists:

The Ninth Circuit concluded that a “true threat” is “a statement which, in the entire context and under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would foresee would be interpreted by those to whom the statement is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon that person.”995 “It is not necessary that the defendant intend to, or be able to carry out his threat; the only intent requirement for a true threat is that the defendant intentionally or knowingly communicate the threat.”99
So that's nice and complicated.  I still don't really know if what this Republican councilman said is illegal.  In the context of this situation, it is important to note, that yet again, this is a Republican, right winger carrying out this type of threat.  Once again, it's the tea party using extreme language as the norm.

 These are your Republican representatives folks.  These are the people who claim they are the victims:
Smith went on to say that the city council is like a "fraternity", and that "I'm not welcome to the club."
 Yea, that's because you're a freaking idiot.  You did this three years ago and got caught now.  Suddenly you're the victim. *sigh*