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  (Source: Earmilk)
Penn. man lost custody of kids, was imprisoned for 44 months for posting threatening lyrics about wife, cops

A case that will be heard by the Supreme Court is testing the limits of free speech when it comes to threatening jokes and comments on the internet.  
I. Artistic Escape or Speech Crime?
The defendant in the case is Anthony Douglas Elonis (31) of Allenstown, Penn.  In 2010 he quickly gained attention for his colorful posts to Facebook, Inc.'s (FB) social network following personal problems.  The posts quickly spiraled out of control as Mr. Elonis' personal life collapsed.  Tried and convicted in 2011 of making a number of threats via interstate networks, Mr. Elonis has served his sentence but he and his lawyers still want to prove his innocence, vindicating the father of two.
At stake is whether threatening-sounding posts to online sites like Facebook are protected under Constitutional free speech protections.  In such cases many courts have argued punishments for "speechcrime" may be necessary, but even hardline courts agree that there may be a need for exemptions to protect the First Amendment rights of those engaging in satire or "artistic expression" and not making a true threat.
The issue is particularly hot as at least one of Mr. Elonis' posts quotes actors or musicians who were not charged for their own comments and internet postings.
Anthony Elonis found solace in a troubled time in his life by posting dark, violent sounding lyrics, he says.  He insists the lyrics weren't meant to be taken seriously. [Image Source: Facebook]

For example, in a post from November 2010 he quoted the Virginian dark comedy troupe "The Whitest Kids U' Know" (WKUK).  Writing under his musical alter ego "Tone Elonis," he modifies the words of the WKUK performance "It's Illegal to Say..." substituting "my wife" for "The President of the U.S."  He wrote:
Did you know that it's illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?  It's illegal. It's indirect criminal contempt. It's one of the only sentences that I'm not allowed to say....  Art is about pushing limits. I'm willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are you?
The post came two days after the Virginia resident's wife received a personal protection order (PPO) from a local court, but it proved eerily prophetic adding fuel to the fire and worsening Mr. Elonis' legal problems.  
The roots of the rant began in May 2010 when his wife of 7 years, Tara Elonis, left him.  A self proclaimed fan of "emo" music and Gilmore Girls, Ms. Elonis and her husband enjoyed happier times not long after their first child was born.  The pair had married back when in high school when Tara had gotten pregnant with their son, Riley.  In a post on a social network profile she gushes:

Hmm. My name is Tara and I just straight out rock. You all know it. I'm married (almost 3 years) and I have two kids, Riley and Emma. You can look at my pics to see them. I live right outside of Bethlehem, but I'd do anything to get out of here. Seriously. I love music and movies. And so on and so on. 

By 2011 Riley was age 8 and the couple had also had a girl, Emma, age 7.  And the pair's marriage was teetering on the brink of ruin, amid Mr. Elonis's accusations that his wife was cheating on him.  As the pair's relationship fell on hard times, Tara Elonis filed for divorce and took the children to live with her father in Berks County.  

EminemDetroit rapper Eminem was an inspiration to Mr. Elonis.  Much like Mr. Elonis, Eminem rapped about killing his wife and killing cops, but since he is famous he has been charged with no crime.
[Image Source: Earmilk]

Losing his wife and kids left Mr. Elonis despondent and borderline suicidal.  Court documents state that he was regularly seen crying in front of coworkers.  Then he had an epiphany.  He would later testify:
I was basically listening to love songs and getting depressed.  So I started listening to more violent music and it helped me in some way.
Inspired by rappers Eminem, Necro, and Insane Clown Posse -- artists whose lyrics regularly brush on hyper-violent murderous fantasies involving their rivals, lovers, ex-wives, and  close relatives -- the resident of lower Saucon Township began posting prose and lyrics of his own to Facebook, under the monikers "Tone Elonis" or "Tone Dougie".
II. Threatening Lyrics About Wife -- Too Real?
Like his idols, Mr. Elonis' diatribes/lyrics targeted those he felt wronged him, although he insists they were cathartic jokes not promises of true violence.  In an Oct. 10, 2010 post directed at his wife, he wrote:

If I only knew then what I know now, I would have smothered your ass with a pillow, dumped you in the back seat, left your body in Toad Creek and made it look like rape and murder.

In another post he wrote:

There’s one way to love you but a thousand
ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until
your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying
from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, b**ch,
so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from
atop your shallow grave. I used to be a nice guy
but then you became a sl*t. Guess it’s not your
fault you liked your daddy raped you.
So hurry up and die, b**ch, so I can forgive you.

After that post, Tara Elonis (then 25) in November sought a personal protection-from-abuse order (PPO).  She testified:

I felt like I was being stalked.  I felt extremely afraid for me and my children and my family's lives.

Tara Elonis
Tara Elonis accused her husband of "stalking" her after he posted threatening lyrics about her on Facebook, after she left, taking the pair's kids.  The pair divorced in 2012.
[Image Source: Badoo/]

A judge agreed and issued an order barring Mr. Elonis from contact with his wife and kids, citing the posts as evidence.  Mr. Elonis would subsequently post the WKUK-derived/inspired rant, writing:

Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I
want to kill my wife?
It’s illegal.
It’s indirect criminal contempt.
It’s one of the only sentences that I’m not
allowed to say.
Now it was okay for me to say it right then
because I was just telling you that it’s illegal for
me to say I want to kill my wife.
I’m not actually saying it.
I’m just letting you know that it’s illegal for me
to say that.
It’s kind of like a public service.
I’m letting you know so that you don’t
accidently go out and say something like that
Um, what’s interesting is that it’s very illegal to
say I really, really think someone out there
should kill my wife.
That’s illegal.
Very, very illegal.
But not illegal to say with a mortar launcher.
Because that’s its own sentence.
It’s an incomplete sentence but it may have
nothing to do with the sentence before that.
So that’s perfectly fine.
Perfectly legal.
I also found out that it’s incredibly illegal,
extremely illegal, to go on Facebook and say
something like the best place to fire a mortar
launcher at her house would be from the
cornfield behind it because of easy access to a
getaway road and you’d have a clear line of
sight through the sun room.
Insanely illegal.
Ridiculously, wrecklessly, insanely illegal.
Yet even more illegal to show an illustrated
======[ __ ] =====house
: : : : : : : ^ : : : : : : : : : : : :cornfield
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :
######################getaway road
Insanely illegal.
Ridiculously, horribly felonious.
Cause they will come to my house in the middle
of the night and they will lock me up.
Extremely against the law.
Uh, one thing that is technically legal to say is
that we have a group that meets Fridays at my
parent’s house and the password is sic simper

That description, which would later be later characterized in court as a detailed description of how to kill his estranged wife, would later come back to haunt him.
III. Sexual Harassment Complaint, Facebook Post Led to His Firing
As his relationship was on the rocks, Mr. Elonis' work life was also crumbling.  At the time he was working as "an operations supervisor and a communications
technician" of the local amusement park, Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom.  Amber Morrissey filed a sexual harassment complaint against Mr. Elonis.  The complaint led to him being demoted by his supervisor, Daniel Hall, the chief of security at Dorney Park.
Much as he did with his wife, Mr. Elonis turned to "artistic expression" to drown his sorrows at the situation.  He posted a picture of Ms. Morissey he had taken at a haunted theme event the previous year.  In the picture he was dressed as a demon and was holding a knife to Ms. Morrisey's throat, which had makeup blood.  In the Facebook caption he wrote, "I wish."
Halloween Haunt
After being fired from the amusement park Dorney Park, Mr. Elonis posted threatening lyrics about the 2011 Halloween Haunt (pictured). [Image Source: TripAdvisor]

After word of Tara Elonis's PPO and the threatening picture targeting Ms. Morissey reached Dan Hall, he took further action against his troubled employee by terminating him.  This led to yet more Facebook rants later in Oct. 2010.  The park was preparing at the time for its annual "Halloween Haunt" event.  Mr. Elonis penned lyrics portraying a plan to carry out an attack on the park, terrorizing customers and staff, and killing many.  He wrote:

Moles. Didn’t I tell ya’ll I had several? Ya’ll
saying I had access to keys for the fucking
gates, that I have sinister plans for all my
friends and must have taken home a couple.
Ya’ll think it’s too dark and foggy to secure
your facility from a man as mad as me. You
see, even without a paycheck I’m still the main
attraction. Whoever thought the Halloween
haunt could
be so f**king scary?

Ms. Morissey -- who saw the lyrics -- complained she felt so threatened she had picked out a spot to hide at the event should Mr. Elonis decide to carry out his dark lyrical threat.

IV. More Lyrics Target Law Enforcement Officers

His former supervisor Dan Hall had, had enough and informed local authorities in South Whitehall Township, where the park is located.  Local, state, and federal authorities subsequently began to question Mr. Elonis and examine his Facebook.  The police attention led to more lyrical fantasy from Mr. Elonis in which he sings/writes about killing Berks deputy sheriffs and state troopers.

In the rap lyric he threatens to bomb the local and state police, writing:

Fold up your PFA and put it in your pocket
Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?
Try to enforce an Order
That was improperly granted in the first place
Me thinks the judge needs an education on true
threat jurisprudence
And prison time will add zeroes to my
Which you won’t see a lick
Because you suck dog d*ck in front of children
And if worse comes to worse
I’ve got enough explosives
to take care of the state police and the sheriff's
[link: Freedom of Speech,]

He followed that with a post "joking" about shooting up a school.  He commented:

That’s it, I’ve had about enough
I’m checking out and making a name for myself
Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius
to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever
And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a
kindergarten class
The only question is . . . which one?

Facebook threats
"Tone Elonis" found himself in federal court after he allegedly threatened law enforcement officers with violent lyrics on Facebook. [Image Source: ABC]

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began monitoring Mr. Elonis' posts after his supervisor notified them.  Around the start of December, FBI Agent Denise Stevens -- who had been monitoring the Facebook posts -- paid a visit to Mr. Elonis' home with her fellow agent and spoke with him.  Apparently incensed at the visit, Mr. Elonis would later that day write a post on Facebook, which he titled "Little Agent Lady."  He wrote:

You know your sh*t’s ridiculous
when you have the FBI knockin’ at yo’ door
Little Agent Lady stood so close
Took all the strength I had not to turn the b**ch
Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat
Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms
of her partner


So the next time you knock, you best be serving
a warrant
And bring yo’ SWAT and an explosives expert
while you’re at it
Cause little did y’all know, I was strapped wit’
a bomb
Why do you think it took me so long to get
dressed with no shoes on?
I was jus’ waitin’ for y’all to handcuff me and
pat me down
Touch the detonator in my pocket and we’re all


The post brought a swift legal response from authorities.
V. Charged With Federal Crimes
On Dec. 10, 2010 federal authorities decided they had enough evidence to charge Mr. Elonis with five counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce -- one count for the threat against his wife, one count for the threat against his coworkers, one count for the post about the school shooting, one count for the threat against local/state law enforcement, and one count for the threat against the FBI agent.  According to 18 U.S. Code § 875:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
The law indicated that the maximum possible consecutive sentence for Mr. Elonis' speechcrime would be 25 years in federal prison.  Tried by a jury in early 2011, Mr. Elonis was represented by Benjamin Cooper, a public defender.
Anthony Elonis
A jury in 2011 found Mr. Elonis guilty of interstate threats, after a federal judge ordered the jury to consider all internet communications "interstate" communications, even if targeting local friends. [Image Source: AboveTheLaw]

On trial in Oct. 2011 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a jury found Mr. Elonis guilty of four of the five interstate threat counts.  Judge Lawrence F. Stengel sentenced Mr. Elonis to a moderate sentence for a first time offender -- 44 months (3 years and eight months) in prison, plus another three years of supervised release.
Mr. Stengel began serving his time while the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals heard his appeal.  The 3rd Circuit considers Federal District Court appeals for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands.  

The appeal began in June 2013 and in Sept. 2013 the appeals panel ruled to uphold the lower court's ruling [PDF].  One particularly controversial point discussed in the appeal ruling is the notion that all internet posts constitute "interstate transmissions" even if the primary audience is people in your state, as the communications are often routed back and forth to and from data centers in other states.
The Circuit judges write:

In United States v. MacEwan [a child pornography case]... because a Comcast witness testified it was impossible to know whether a particular transmission traveled through computer servers located entirely within Pennsylvania, or to any other server in the United States. Id. at 241-42. "[W]e conclude[d] that because of the very interstate nature of the Internet, once a user submits a connection request to a website server or an image is transmitted from the website server back to [the] user, the data has traveled in interstate commerce.” Id. at 244.

Elonis distinguishes MacEwan by stating that in that case the government presented evidence on how the internet worked. But the government’s evidence in MacEwan did not show that any one of the defendant’s internet transmissions traveled outside of Pennsylvania. We found that fact to be irrelevant to the question of interstate commerce because submitting data on the internet necessarily means the data travels in interstate commerce. Id. at 241. Instead, we held ...

Based on our conclusion that proving internet transmission alone is sufficient to prove transmission through interstate commerce, the District Court did not err in instructing the jury.

For the foregoing reasons we will uphold Elonis’s convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c).

With the loss of the Circuit appeal, it appeared all might be lost for the defenders.  Indeed Mr. Elonis served out his time and was quietly released last February.

VI. The Last Appeal

But there still was one avenue for Mr. Elonis to clear his name, however unlikely.  Last year Mr. Elonis filed for a Writ of Certiorari -- an appeal before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).  

Elonis SCOTUS Petition (Final 2-13-14) (With Appendix) by Michelle Olsen

In the appeal his lawyers write:
The issue is growing in importance as communication online by e-mail and social media has become commonplace.  Modern media allow personal reflections intended for a small audience (or no audience) to be viewed widely by people who are unfamiliar with the context in which the statements were made and thus who may interpret the statements much differently than the speakers intended.
The appeal was backed by University of Virginia Law Professor David Ortiz.  It is also backed by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and other civil liberties groups.
But despite the high profile support, the appeal was by no means guaranteed.  The Supreme Court has already ruled in numerous cases over verbal or pictorial threats, such as the 2003 ruling in Virginia v. Black, in which the SCOTUS struck down a Virginia law against cross burning as overly broad, despite the act widely being perceived as a gesture of racial intimidation in the South.  The case set part of the precedent that prosecutors had to navigate around at the District and Circuit Appeals Court levels in the Elonis case.

And while Mr. Elonis' lawyers complained that the Virginia v. Black ruling lacked clarity, going on to suggest that prosecutors interpretations in their clients case had been erroneous, such a tactic also wouldn't necessarily bear fruit.  A similar appeal had been raised in 2013 over a threat on YouTube, and the SCOTUS had declined to hear that case.

Anthony Elonis
Anthony Elonis, 30, will at last get his day in court before the Supreme Court to argue his innocence in the crime he served time for. [Image Source: Anthony Elonis]
But against the odds the high court announced on Mon. June 16, 2014 that it would hear Mr. Elonis' appeal.  The appeal may offer clarification of a number of issues including whether internet communications are inherently "interstate", whether menacing internet satire is allowed, and what exactly the limits of colorful, violent fantasy lyrics are.
The ruling will likely have an impact on future cases regarding sites like Facebook and YouTube.

Sources: SCOTUS Blog, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Scribd [appeal to SCOTUS], USA Today

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Shig on 6/16/2014 9:02:16 PM , Rating: 5
You need to look closer at the first amendment. There are certain things that it won't cover.

"protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on fighting words)"

In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court established the doctrine by a 9-0 decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It held that "insulting or 'fighting words,' those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech the prevention and punishment of [which] ... have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

By Shig on 6/16/2014 9:03:12 PM , Rating: 2
There have been several precedents set after this one, but in general it still holds true.

By JasonMick on 6/16/2014 10:38:24 PM , Rating: 5
I agree this is the legal precedent, but I think a compelling case can be made that this give judges the power to arbitrarily nullify free speech (and the Constitution).

Of course this is just one of many laws that have been past, largely in the last century, which nullify Constitutional protections "in special cases" or in times "of immediate [crisis]" or "imminent [danger]".

"insulting or 'fighting words'", eh? Pray tell me where that precedent's alarmingly slippery slope ends?

What if Reclaimer missed his morning coffee and is feeling a bit grouchy and calls me f**ktw*t and says my family members sleep with questionable people?

Should he be thrown in prison for 2 to 3 years?

With all of this, I think it's perfectly valid to use someone word's to investigate someone and issue warrants. The Constitution does not say that if you say things that suggest you might be planning an "immediate breach of the peace" that law enforcement can't ask a judge for a warrant and search his place.

In this case that happened and from what I've read he had no weapons and no other illegal materials. He had no "clear plan" and he made no attempt to drive to his ex-wife's place and harm her. He just posted crude and childish lyrics depicting violent fantasies against the woman who took his kids.

Where is the "immediate breach of the peace in that". Ditto for law enforcement. Obviously they searched his place and he had no bombs. If someone suggests they have a silo of Aegis cruise missile in their attic ready to destroy town hall and police get a warrant, search the place and find no weapons should the person be arrested for making a dumb joke?

There was a time in American history when at least some people had free speech without exception and disclaimer.

"Fighting words" are just that -- words. If you fight someone, now you've possibly committed a crime. "Tend to incite an immediate breach" is a bunch of weasel words. Did you incite a breach or not?

What kind of words have an "utterance" that "inflicts injury" worse than wounded pride and hurt feelings?

I acknowledge the precedent is that in "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech the prevention and punishment of [which] ... have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

The problem is that any such possible "class of speech" that the court invents with rambling rulings is inevitably predisposed to being an arbitrary tool that's anything but "well-defined".

For example, as I state in the piece, Eminem can write the same kinds of things Mr. Elonis did and not be charged or sent to prison. You tell me how it's well defined when two individuals state nearly identical menacing lyrics and one is arrested and the other (who happens to be rich) is not?

"Well-defined", huh?

I think the words of Thomas Jefferson are apt here:
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Mr. Elonis is a poor lyricist, even by Eminem/ICP standards and his comments were childish.

But how did his words deny someone else of their freedom?

At any time, anyone who was offended (e.g. the ex-wife) could simply unfriend/block him, and/or report him to Facebook moderators. Or they could write a diatribe right back at him. Or they could just ignore him. There was no denial of freedom in anything I've read so far.

When some men (rappers like ICP, et al.) are allowed to speak in such a way that other men are denied to, then you start to see how selective nullification of freedom quickly devolves into biased, bigoted, inequitable tyranny.

As an aside, it did appear reading the rulings that Mr. Elonis did potentially commit one or more crimes with his sexual advances to his theme park coworker. If anything, officials should have investigated that and pressed charges more thoroughly.

Instead they freaked out and lashed out at a man for writing insulting and menacing lyrics at them. Which is hilarious when rappers like NWA were allowed to be free, despite actually OWNING weapons (legally) -- which Mr. Elonis did not.

Let me quote NWA:
F**k the police comin straight from the underground
A young ni**a got it bad cause I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
F**k that s**t, cause I ain't the one
for a punk motherf***er with a badge and a gun
to be beatin on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
F**kin with me cause I'm a teenager
with a little bit of g0ld and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every ni**a is sellin narcotics
You'd rather see, me in the pen
than me and Lorenzo rollin in a B3nz-o
Beat a police out of shape
and when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape
To tape off the scene of the slaughter
Still gettin swoll off bread and water
I don't know if they f**s or what
Search a ni**a down, and grabbin his n*ts
And on the other hand, without a gun they can't get none
But don't let it be a black and a white one
Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showin out for the white cop
Ice Cube will swarm
on ANY motherfu**er in a blue uniform
Just cause I'm from, the CPT
Ounk police are afraid of me!
So you tell me who is more of a threat -- NWA who own guns and were affiliated with gangs, or this guy who sang less than half as many death threats to police, owns no weapons, and worked at a theme park.

Or maybe the judges are just too incompetent to use common sense and see that? Seems to me if the courts are too incompetent to enforce a law in a seemingly halfway fair fashion, the law should be stricken from the books.

By ritualm on 6/16/2014 11:59:37 PM , Rating: 2
Jail time is too severe a punishment for Elonis, and sends the wrong message altogether. Methinks he should be docked for x amount of hours of community service and issue formal apology letters to those he threatened via online postings.

If that guy gets jail time, you might as well claim how the hip-hop music industry is a menace to society and shut it down completely.

I myself got tired of listening to the same old crap - guns, money, chicks, violence, etc. - from every American hip-hop artist/group.

By Nightbird321 on 6/17/2014 12:05:20 AM , Rating: 1
IMHO this is not really a boundary case. If someone posted something like that at work, they'd be fired instantly. Who wants to be the one responsible for seeing this type of behavior, does nothing, and then something actually happens? You'd probably be liable for negligence - ignoring the warning signs.

By tng on 6/18/2014 12:48:42 PM , Rating: 2
Who wants to be the one responsible for seeing this type of behavior, does nothing, and then something actually happens? You'd probably be liable for negligence...

Well how many mentally unstable kids have posted stuff just as bad, have a history of mental illness and were not stopped before they went out, got a gun and killed people? Lets face it there have been parents of some of these people that pleaded with police to do something, but the police can't do anything until it happens.

I really don't see the difference here, why this guy?

By someguy123 on 6/17/2014 12:30:22 AM , Rating: 2
Mick, I agree with you on the general concept of free speech and rights of artists, but the precedent of "alarming" or "fighting" words isn't as abused as you would believe. There are only a limited amount of things you can be arrested for under this doctrine, and people have avoided arrest by proving their case was not deliberately instigating violence. It's a very narrow law that really only encompasses deliberate attempts at starting a fight or hate crimes. Reclaimer would have to shout racist insults, claim he'll beat your a$s over and over, or follow you around trashing your family for him to be convicted. People have avoided conviction under "fighting words" even when they were yelling at cops or holding "f@ggots go to hell" signs around soldier funerals. The vagueness actually makes it harder to uphold because prosecutors need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that their comments were meant to incite.

I think that the WORST thing Elonis should've received was a misdemeanor for intimidating an officer, if anything at all, so I do agree that they're going to far. At the same time, they may have been able to use his comments against the agent as proof that these rants actually are threats, if only ones he'll never attempt, since he was told his facebook was being monitored and clearly knew they were going to see it. That changed the game from being his own rant wall to direct communication, which they likely used to convince the jury that all of his posts were directed and purposeful rather than artistic or therapeutic.

By tim851 on 6/17/2014 7:44:36 AM , Rating: 2
What kind of words have an "utterance" that "inflicts injury" worse than wounded pride and hurt feelings?

The kind that makes the other person feel like you might be coming for them to kill them.

Are you saying death threats shouldn't be actionable? I should be allowed to drive to your daughters school, take a picture of her and send it to you with the "lyrics" - "Ima kill ya kid / Gonna skin her like a pig" - written on the back.
That wouldn't unsettle you?

By JasonMick on 6/17/2014 9:19:21 AM , Rating: 2
Are you saying death threats shouldn't be actionable? I should be allowed to drive to your daughters school, take a picture of her and send it to you with the "lyrics" - "Ima kill ya kid / Gonna skin her like a pig" - written on the back.
That wouldn't unsettle you?
In that case you've committed a crime, as I'm pretty sure a creeper taking pictures of kids at elementary school is an actual act that falls under various statutes, such as stalking laws, etc.

That was precisely my point -- the person's words are only made so extremely creepy in your example by the fact that he drove to the school and committed ACTIONS. Those ACTIONS are or should be illegal. If he documented his own actions, he's providing evidence for his arrest.

Now if he just posted that lyric on Facebook and sent it to you, I would just ban him and report him to Facebook. I fail to see how, if the person in your example hadn't went to the extreme of committing actions, that it would be "hurtful" had he not done actions.

Foul actions are criminal. Foul speech is not.

It's not that hard a concept.

You illustrate it well, unintentionally, with your own flawed example.

By OutOfTouch on 6/17/2014 9:40:10 AM , Rating: 2
He posted a picture of Ms. Morissey he had taken at a haunted theme event the previous year. In the picture he was dressed as a demon and was holding a knife to Ms. Morrisey's throat, which had makeup blood. In the Facebook caption he wrote, "I wish."


By OutOfTouch on 6/17/2014 9:42:05 AM , Rating: 2
To extend on that, I don't think that jail time was the appropriate response. I can assure you that had that been my wife he would have been paid a visit by me.

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 9:54:57 AM , Rating: 2
"It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."


By Just Tom on 6/17/2014 12:08:25 PM , Rating: 1
So he drives to the local park. Taking photos of, clothed children, is perfectly legal. There is no law that forbids taking photos of children, no one is free from having her photo taken in a public place. So are his actions now legal? If not, why so?

The purpose of the 1st amendment was to protect political speech. Non-political speech was regulated to no end.

There was a time in American history when at least some people had free speech without exception and disclaimer.

When was this? When Bruce was being arrested for and convicted for obscenity? When was this mythical time?

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 12:31:28 PM , Rating: 3

The purpose of the 1st amendment was to protect political speech. Non-political speech was regulated to no end.

Survey says!!??


Oohhh, I'm sorry. WRONG! Thank you for playing.

Honestly I don't know where you even got that idea. The First Amendment encompasses religious freedom, political freedom, the right to expression and on and on. It makes no mention of only applying to political speech. Where did you get that?

By Just Tom on 6/17/2014 1:40:33 PM , Rating: 1
Sighs, we are talking about the 1st amendment as it regards to speech. I very well realize what the amendment covers. Is it so difficult for you to follow a discussion thread? Why would the clauses for assembly or religion be germane to this discussion? Unless you are claiming the Elonis' religion had as a sacrament the posting of threats.

The purpose of the speech and press clause in the amendment was to protect political speech. The history is fairly well laid out, and historically accepted. The 1st amendment does not offer complete protection to a whole host of speech, for instance commercial speech or pornography. Artistic expression as a protected class of speech is a relatively recent event, coming into existence in the 1980s. The speech and press clause in the amendment were specifically added to eliminate the possibility of governmental censorship of political thought and speech.

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 2:21:07 PM , Rating: 3
The purpose of the speech and press clause in the amendment was to protect political speech.

I am following the discussion. This, again, is wrong. It's purpose is to protect ALL kinds of speeches.!/amendments/...


"What exactly did the Framers mean by "freedom of speech, or of the press"? Surprisingly, there is little definitively known about the subject. The debates in the First Congress, which proposed the Bill of Rights, are brief and unilluminating."

In other words, this concrete definition you're trying to push that this clause was specifically to protect political speech, is found NOWHERE but your own mind.


Meaning if they decide that journalists can no longer talk about pink bunny rabbits and pass a law to that affect, it's also Unconstitutional!

By Just Tom on 6/17/2014 4:42:11 PM , Rating: 1
No where but my own mind? Sir, your delusional. There are books written on the speech clause, and it is far from unusual for historians to believe that the purpose of the clause was to protect political speech.

As a practical matter, and there are scads of Supreme Court precedents on this, political speech was the only protected speech for most of the history of the nation. Government has had the power to regulate commercial speech since the beginning of the Republic and expressive speech as protected speech has only existed legally since the 80's. Man have you never heard of Lenny Bruce?

I am following the discussion. This, again, is wrong. It's purpose is to protect ALL kinds of speeches.

In response, from Cato (link below)
In one area, however, we have largely resisted that pattern— more precisely, the Supreme Court has stood its ground and protected us from ourselves, so to speak, by protecting certain freedoms as they were meant to be protected. That area is speech. Citing the First Amendment, especially over the course of this century,2 the Court has crafted a free speech jurisprudence that is robust and, for the most part, correct. And in doing so, the Court has made it clear that political speech, especially, was what the Founders had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.

My view is hardly unique, certainly does not exist only in my mind. Unless you are accusing me of having the power to go back in time and brainwash Cato's Constitutional scholar.

But most importantly, even your link weakens your overarching argument that this is completely protected speech. From your heritage link listing exceptions to freedom of speech...
e. Threats: Speech that is reasonably perceived as a threat of violence (and not just rhetorical hyperbole) can be punished. Virginia v. Black (2003).

Speech loses its protection if a reasonable person would perceive it as a threat of violence. 12 reasonable jurists did so.

By tim851 on 6/17/2014 9:18:18 PM , Rating: 2
In that case you've committed a crime, as I'm pretty sure a creeper taking pictures of kids at elementary school is an actual act that falls under various statutes, such as stalking laws, etc.

Would you kindly reference me the law you think I might have broken, Mr. Mick?

As far as I know, in America, I can pretty much photograph anything I want as long as it's in public space -- like your daughter on her way home from school.
Most especially since I don't plan on publishing the photograph, but merely use it to creep the hell out of you and your family.
You know, as protected by the Constitution (according to you).

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 9:31:55 AM , Rating: 1
What if Reclaimer missed his morning coffee and is feeling a bit grouchy and calls me f**ktw*t and says my family members sleep with questionable people? Should he be thrown in prison for 2 to 3 years?

LOL don't ask that here, everyone will just say "yes" :)

But excellent post, I can't argue with a single point. This is so black and white it's appalling to me it's gone on this long. This man's most basic and essential right as an American has been squashed going on years now. To have the horrors of prison forced on someone for this!?

"Oh shit the cops

[Notorious B.I.G.]
Be cool, fool
They ain't gonna roll up, all they want is fuc*ing doughnuts

[Young Biggie]
So why the fu&k he keep looking?

[Notorious B.I.G.]
I guess to get his life tooken "

This is from a Biggie song "Gimme' the Loot". I don't know, that sounds like "fighting words" to me.

Of course this is just one of many laws that have been past, largely in the last century, which nullify Constitutional protections "in special cases" or in times "of immediate [crisis]" or "imminent [danger]".

The fact that more things aren't protected speech than are now, tells me things have gone sideways in a big way over the last 75+ years.

We keep passing law after law that digs the foundation out from around the Constitution's founding principles. How can people be okay with this?

By Ammohunt on 6/17/2014 2:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
Do you feel the same about "Hate speech"? What about sexist speech at the workplace what about speech deemed incitement?

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 2:32:58 PM , Rating: 2
Not to answer for Jason, but I would think that has to be viewed on a case-by case basis.

I fear we're teetering close to Draconia here. Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent. But some here are basically advocating Thought Crime.

If we start down the path of "oh that's hate speech, off with his head", then we abandon the very principles we hold dear.

By RapidDissent on 6/17/2014 2:51:15 PM , Rating: 2
It's not arbitrary... He is making direct and personal threats, but random assertions to the general populous.

Being that most states want to limit your ability to protect your own person, they have to be proportionately strict to attempt at protecting you before an incident occurs. Do we want law enforcement to respond to crimes or prevent them?

If we choose the libertarian vantage that crime prevention quickly borders on "future crimes", a-la Minority Report, than you must yield to my ability to protect myself from that which you cannot.

Which is it? Prosecute people for unwanted loitering outside your house, or prosecute you for killing that person inside your house?

I know which one I'd choose.

By FaaR on 6/17/2014 3:03:40 PM , Rating: 1
You're only JOKING (of course!) to kill your wife until the moment you actually do it. Never in the history of ever did a man ever kill his wife after having repeatedly threatened to do so.

Seriously, put yourself in the situation of the other person; an arguably unstable ex-spouse is making increasinly dire threats (harmless jokes!) against your life. How would you feel?

It's totally okay, right? You sleep really, really well at night, you feel absolutely safe as you walk out the door of your home, every day. Of course you do, because the spouse is just joking after all!

Yeah of course, and repeatedly yelling "BOMB!" in a crowded theatre is okay too; it was just a harmless joke after all.

By Reclaimer77 on 6/17/2014 3:20:16 PM , Rating: 2
Better 10 wives be killed by an abusive spouse, then to lock ONE innocent man up because he "may" have done something.

This is the VERY principle our entire "justice system" was founded on, after all.

It's a crime to kill someone. It's NOT a crime to think about doing it.

We're quickly approaching "Thought Crime" here, fyi.

(ps there's tons of hyperbole in your post that isn't even worth addressing. Nobody is saying those things are "okay")

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