www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Today's faults -11/26/2014, 7:45 AM

Meatless Mondays -- forget about it -11/26/2014, 7:45 AM

Cosby, serial rapist? That's a lot to forgive -11/26/2014, 7:45 AM

Letting it fly -11/26/2014, 7:45 AM

KanCare oversight -11/26/2014, 7:45 AM

Giving thanks for blessings as Kansans -11/25/2014, 10:11 AM

Local fixes to local problems? -11/25/2014, 10:11 AM

Energy security -11/25/2014, 10:11 AM

Pipeline politics -11/24/2014, 10:04 AM

They killed Peter Kassig -11/24/2014, 10:04 AM

Going from bad to good on election night -11/23/2014, 6:38 PM

Free Speech can be shield or a sword -11/23/2014, 6:38 PM

Dodge City merger -11/22/2014, 6:38 PM

House mis-speaker -11/21/2014, 9:50 AM

Obama vs. Us -11/21/2014, 9:50 AM

Really smart conservatives love public debt -11/21/2014, 9:50 AM

Official welcome -11/20/2014, 9:52 AM

Control freaks in the U.S. -11/20/2014, 1:24 PM

How did we get here? -11/20/2014, 9:52 AM

An open letter to the GOP -11/19/2014, 10:03 AM

Successful farming -11/19/2014, 10:03 AM

Getting personal -11/18/2014, 9:15 AM

Teachers, not facilities -11/18/2014, 9:15 AM

Schoolteachers and the Legislature -11/18/2014, 9:06 AM

Water vision -11/18/2014, 9:06 AM

I see wonderful things -11/17/2014, 9:26 AM

Politics prevail over truth in Kansas elections -11/17/2014, 9:26 AM

Progress at mall -11/16/2014, 5:22 PM

Opinions on the general election -11/16/2014, 5:22 PM

Why are schools afraid of freedom? -11/16/2014, 5:22 PM

Educational fraud -11/14/2014, 9:42 AM

The American public gets smart -11/14/2014, 9:41 AM

State revenue -11/13/2014, 4:48 PM

Staying positive -11/13/2014, 2:14 PM

Democracy delusions -11/13/2014, 2:14 PM

An awesome tribute -11/13/2014, 2:14 PM

Military underpaid -11/12/2014, 2:15 PM

Success for Moran -11/12/2014, 11:54 AM

Shop wisely when you go -11/12/2014, 11:53 AM

2014: The year of no ideas -11/12/2014, 11:52 AM

Veterans Day -11/11/2014, 10:13 AM

A new start for veterans' health care -11/11/2014, 10:13 AM

Awaiting Brownback's mark -11/11/2014, 10:13 AM

Roberts and catcalls heard 'round the world -11/10/2014, 9:18 AM

Honoring all who served -11/10/2014, 9:18 AM

Brownback coalition prevails -11/9/2014, 6:03 PM

Seeing the news is necessary -11/9/2014, 6:02 PM

Immigration reform -11/9/2014, 6:02 PM

Scholar-athlete charade -11/7/2014, 8:32 AM

How about a beer and a short break? -11/7/2014, 8:32 AM

Fighting poverty -11/7/2014, 8:32 AM

Voting his mind, apparently -11/6/2014, 9:51 AM

Electing liberty -11/6/2014, 9:50 AM

UNC's troubles -11/6/2014, 9:50 AM

Fast-food pay -11/5/2014, 2:32 PM

Oil, natural gas driving security -11/5/2014, 10:20 AM

Ellis' future -11/5/2014, 10:19 AM

Family ties -11/5/2014, 10:19 AM

Quarantine questions -11/4/2014, 10:03 AM

Counting non-voter votes -11/4/2014, 10:03 AM

Low blows -11/4/2014, 10:03 AM

Take country back -11/3/2014, 4:36 PM

Big First Tea Party endorses Roberts -11/3/2014, 4:36 PM

Changing times -11/3/2014, 4:27 PM

Elect an Independent -11/3/2014, 4:27 PM

Leiker excels -11/3/2014, 4:27 PM

Watching decline -11/3/2014, 4:27 PM

Lack of respect -11/3/2014, 9:58 AM

Holding memories for Aunt Millie -11/3/2014, 9:53 AM

Playing the game -11/3/2014, 9:53 AM

Vote responsibly -11/3/2014, 9:53 AM

Sherow is change -11/3/2014, 9:53 AM

Silly season and cynical strategies -11/3/2014, 9:52 AM

No endorsement -11/3/2014, 9:52 AM

Thank you, Hays -11/3/2014, 9:52 AM

Another Koch division? -11/2/2014, 5:09 PM

A Matter of truth -11/2/2014, 5:09 PM

-11/2/2014, 5:09 PM

Leiker for House -11/2/2014, 5:08 PM

Bottom of barrel -11/2/2014, 5:08 PM

Candidate asks for support -11/1/2014, 5:09 PM

Roberts serves Kansas -11/1/2014, 5:09 PM

Face of the experiment -10/31/2014, 4:36 PM

Leiker fits the bill -10/31/2014, 4:18 PM

Ellis has a choice -10/31/2014, 3:06 PM

Health-care truth -10/31/2014, 2:55 PM

Dropping the ball -10/31/2014, 2:55 PM

Governor's tricks -10/31/2014, 2:44 PM

Ballot measures -10/31/2014, 11:10 AM

Marijuana debate -10/30/2014, 2:44 PM

Republican crossover -10/30/2014, 2:35 PM

Roberts not the answer -10/30/2014, 10:25 AM

See the signs -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Incumbents always win -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Convention center -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Schodorf for SOS -10/30/2014, 10:14 AM

Supermarket shenanigans -10/29/2014, 10:19 AM

Americans can fix the Senate -10/29/2014, 10:19 AM

A plea to city commissioners -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Having no price tag -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Anti-bullying measure harms free speech

Published on -4/13/2012, 9:46 AM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

The First Amendment's protection for free speech seems fairly unlimited -- an unambiguous provision included in just 45 simple words that begin with "Congress shall make no law ..."

No intricate phrases, no flowery modifiers. We even have common way of restating the idea: "I can say what I want ... I'm an American." But that doesn't mean there are no limits, restrictions or rules.

Words involved in criminal activity -- say, solicitation for prostitution -- are not protected speech. Defamatory statements are subject to legal action after being written or uttered, to make good the damage unfairly done. Words that carry no penalty when spoken at, say, high noon in the public square can prompt an arrest at 3 a.m. under a bedroom window. Seemingly innocuous words uttered repeatedly to an unwilling recipient reach the level of harassment.

And we cannot make "true threats" against another person. This particular exception to First Amendment protections seems simple enough. But even here we can have complex legal issues.

Case in point: A recent Arizona legislative proposal intended to combat cyberstalking and online bullying. Supporters say the proposed bill just revises existing law to include a new kind of media. But critics say it opens wide a door to potential constitutional violations by making it a crime to offend or annoy others.

No one is defending attacks on others via the Internet. Rather, critics of the measure say it fails to make important distinctions.

Groups ranging from booksellers to music companies to broadcasters have called on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, urging a veto of the bill. Lawmakers have since agreed to take another look at the legislation.

Among potential First Amendment issues that critics have identified:

* The proposal fails to distinguish between harassing speech delivered one-to-one, such as in an email or telephone call, and harsh or offending speech on a web posting intended for the public with no specific individual intended as a target.

* The bill's terms are vague or unexplained, leaving the possibility of prosecution for language that might be offensive but historically lacks the basis for criminal charges.

The potential to chill legitimate -- if contentious -- speech merits this second look by the Legislature.

Clearly the web provides ways for launching anonymous, unrelenting attacks against people -- particularly young people. But the web also has provided new opportunities for people to air views outside the acceptable, mainstream order of things. Many online discussions include frank -- and sometimes profane or lewd -- speech, which while offensive is not in and of itself illegal.

A law that purports to parse and punish speech that gives rise to criminal conduct, but which is not intended to apply to merely crude behavior, ought to use specific language and terms that define exactly what it means.

Those 45 words that protect free speech deserve that kind of careful wording.

Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the Washington-based First Amendment Center. gpolicinski@fac.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos