The First Amendment Has A Limit. . .This Would Be It

An article I read today on the Huffington Post (where else?) has got me thinking.

For who don’t feel like clicking this link and reading the article, I’ll sum it up:  after Hal Turner, a conservative (surprise!) radio talk show host, posted on his blog that three Federal Court of Appeals judges who upheld a handgun ban “deserve to die. . .” and posted the judges’ home addresses, phone numbers, and workplace details, he was arrested on charges of making death threats, attempted assault, and attempted murder.

Martin Garbus, the author of that article, believes that

The case has two separate elements. First, the arrest of Turner on the basis that he might kill the judges. Secondly, the arrest of Turner because he might incite others to kill. I believe his arrest and conviction on either ground is not justified.
Under existing First Amendment law, he is probably protected. Should he be? Do we have to wait until a murder attempt actually gets underway? Does existing First Amendment law have to be changed, and does there have to be a law that more particularly deals with “true threats”?

Quelle suprise! I disagree.

Turner can say whatever he likes.  That’s the essence of the First Amendment.  He can say whatever he likes, no matter how moronic, stupid, violent, or worthless to anyone not a hardcore right-wing lunatic.  Saying that they needed to die?  I’ve no problem with that. In fact, I’ll say the same about Turner right now:  Hal Turner needs to die.  There.  Free Speech, folks, gotta love it.

Turner crossed the line of free speech and became deserving of a lengthy prison stay, in my humble opinion, when he gave out the personal information of the judges.  Everything before that could and should be protected by the First Amendment, but Turner had absolutely no right to dispense to personal information of others without their expression permission, especially when he was calling for those people to die.  Turner violated their privacy and did so while outright stating, not implying or suggesting, that they need to die.  Free Speech, like most of our rights, only extends to the point at which we would be harming others.  Turner makes harming the judges easy:  here’s where they live, where they work, numbers to call and harass them.

Turner not only needs to be thrown in jail and buggered to death; he needs to be civil-suited into bankruptcy by the judges themselves.

To be fair, which this case decidely does not inspire me to be, Turner has done similar things before with other lawmakers.  Nothing happened to the lawmakers in those instances, and nothing has happened to the federal judges in this case. . .yet.  It’s only been a month, though, so give it time. . .and law enforcement officials should not let Turner go unpunished just because his call to action went unanswered.  The call itself should be criminal, if it isn’t already.

If Turner was not intending to incite action against the judges, then what possible godly reason could he have for publishing their personal information?  If you can think of one, please let me know, because I can’t.  Unless he’s got one hell of a creative lawyer, I don’t think a jury will find a good one either.

If this guy was a a jealous, abusive husband posting information about his wife and saying she deserved to die, he’d be arrested for domestic terrorism faster than you could say “Ike Turner,” and Hal Turner (no relation) deserved to be arrested and deserves to be incarcerated for the same reason.  I’m all for free speech, but what Turner did went beyond the usual right-wing hate speech (which even Garbus agrees is on the rise, though he seems to leave out the also-increasing number of right-wingers going on shooting rampages this year) and into the range of incitement of violence against specific people.

Good luck trying to convince me that a violent act against the judges was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of posting their information on his blog; better luck trying to convince a jury, unless Turner takes the “I’m a complete moron” defense.

Which, I must admit, might be acceptable.  It would also be true. . .and no excuse for endangering the lives of others.

VS – 7.7.09

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