Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MySpace Postings And Free Speech

An Indiana Court Said: MySpace postings are free speech

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." - First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a judge violated a juvenile's free-speech rights when he placed her on probation for posting an expletive-laden entry on a MySpace site which criticized a school principal.

Here is what happened:

In February 2006, Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert discovered a Web page on MySpace about him. The girl who was brought before the court and who did not create the MySpace page, made derogatory postings on it concerning the school's policy on body piercings.

The state filed a delinquency petition in March alleging that the girl's comments constituted harassment, identity deception and identity theft. The juvenile court dropped most of the charges, but in June found the girl to be a delinquent child, placed her on nine months of probation and the judge also ruled her MySpace comments were obscene.

The girl appealed, arguing that her comments were protected political speech under both the state and federal constitutions because they dealt with school policy.

The Court of Appeals found that the comments were protected and that the juvenile court had unconstitutionally restricted her right of free expression.

The three-judge panel in Indiana ordered the Putnam Circuit Court to set aside its penalty against the girl.

Judge Patricia Riley wrote in this in her 10-page opinion.
"While we have little regard for A.B.'s use of vulgar epithets, we conclude that her overall message constitutes political speech,"
With regard to free speech in this country I think we all generally hold this thought:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

This quote is commonly attributed to Voltaire. Norbert Guterman, in his 1963 work, "A Book of French Quotations," suggests that it was a line in a letter written by Voltaire to M. le Riche on Feb 6, 1770. "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." [Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., 1980.]

Impure speech and hate speech are definitely not nice. They both can be damaging and even be an incitement to bad behavior. However, if we truly have the right to speak our mind then what do we do about comments made by Don Imus or Michael Richards (Kramer) or Ann Coulter or Mel Gibson and Jesse Jackson? I think we have come a long way in this society, such that now when people say ugly things, they are rebuked for it.

Perhaps people, celebrities in particular, might be wise to think before speaking, although to me the whole issue is not only about free speech but is mainly a testament to how low our everyday vernacular has sunk.

I totally agree with the posting about Imus on The Liberty Papers:
Freedom of speech means the freedom to speak without fear of punishment or supression by the state. It does not mean freedom to speak without having to deal with the consequences of saying something stupid.