Hoaxing the First Amendment

In the aftermath of the recent horrible shooting in Orlando, the familiar story beats are beginning to dot our national media landscape. Politicians of all ideological bents are using the deaths of those who didn’t make it out of Pulse alive to support their agendas, talking heads on the cable news networks (Which are the broadcast equivalent of putting on a scary mask and going “A Booga Booga Booga” at a toddler.) are arguing to not constructive end and, perhaps most unfortunately, crazy people from all over are drumming up non-existent conspiracy theories.
Sadly, this has become all too common in the modern age.

Though the families who lived through Columbine have managed to largely avoid the sick phenomenon, parents in Newtown and all across the U.S.A. have endured petty harassment from those operating under the supposed guise of free speech and the constitutional protections they claim to be given from law.

From University Professor’s to has-been action movie stars, people from all walks of life seem to subscribe to this absurdity and are content to live in ignorance of the realities that exist today.

For starters, the constitution isn’t the be all and end all of law in this country, just as the courts have ruled that you have a right to bear some arms but not all and that you have the right to practice your faith but can’t use it to discriminate against those of a different race, so too have they handed judgements that put limits on the first amendment and usage in this country.

In the 2003 case of Virginia v. Black that dealt with cross burning in the Commonwealth, the SCOTUS ruled that whilst cross burning was protected within the realm of Klan ideology, burning a cross with the intent to intimidate someone could be prosecuted under the law, thus imposing a limit of the extent that a group could use the action as a form of speech in America.

In the 1951 case of Feiner v. New York, the Justices handed down a verdict that allowed police to arrest someone provided the content of their speech caused a crowd listening to pose an imminent threat to those around them. Again, they issued some limits on the first amendment.

And finally, in the 1989 case of Florida Star v. B.J.F., the SCOTUS declared that though a newspaper could not be punished for releasing information that was available somewhere publicly, they could be sanctioned for releasing information that was privately held, such as troop movements during a time of war. A skilled lawyer could argue that same protection applies to unreleased photographs of an individual or unlisted contact information, but that hasn’t been done as far as I know, though perhaps it should be used in proceedings against crazy hoaxers.

Bottom line is this, yes, people have a right to say and do as they please in America, but there are reasonable limits on it like anything else. You can’t inflict harm on aggrieved parties with your speech and you can’t rile up crowds with hurtful rhetoric. The sooner people get this the better. Whether they are a rotten orange seeking the Presidency or a loser tweeting hoaxes online.

Evan Pretzer   –   HONR Network
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