Citing the 2010 arrest of a Pennsylvania man based on alleged threats he posted on his Facebook page, the Rutherford Institute has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to protect the First Amendment rights of citizens posting content online.
Anthony Elonis was convicted of four separate counts of interstate communication of threats in 2012 and was sentenced to 44 months in prison, in addition to three years of supervision upon his release.
According to a press release by the Rutherford Institute, Elonis was simply venting some personal anger by quoting rap lyrics and quotes from a comedy sketch program. The legal group’s president, John W. Whitehead, expressed his concern that such prosecution is making certain forms of speech illegal without meeting the high standards necessary to curtail citizens’ First Amendment liberty.
“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook,” he said, “the end result is the same – the criminalization of free speech.”
The Marine referenced, Brandon Raub, was arrested and subjected to psychiatric evaluations after posting song lyrics and other content to his personal Facebook page. He is also being represented by the Rutherford Institute.
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Whitehead noted that sharing thoughts and opinions online is now ubiquitous; and as a result, the full protection of the First Amendment should be afforded to individuals posting in these forums.
“While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express ideas,” he continued, “they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the federal government handed out a nearly $1 million grant to Indiana University researchers tasked with exposing “hate speech” along with “false and misleading ideas” posted on Twitter.
Photo credit: Enokson (Flickr)