Aug 16, 2009

Testing the limits of free speech

The upcoming trial of Internet radio host Hal Turner could test the boundaries of political speech in this country.

Turner is to be tried for statements he made on his blog after a three-judge panel handed down what he deemed to be a bad ruling in a gun rights case.

From the Washington Post:

"Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed," Turner wrote on his blog on June 2, according to the FBI. "Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions."

The next day, Turner posted photographs of the appellate judges and a map showing the Chicago courthouse where they work, noting the placement of "anti-truck bomb barriers." When an FBI agent appeared at the door of his New Jersey home, Turner said he meant no harm.

He is now behind bars awaiting trial, accused of threatening the judges and deemed by a U.S. magistrate as too dangerous to be free.

The First Amendment makes explicit the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" along with the more general right of free speech. Does Turner's opinion that the judges deserve death, however vile, constitute a threat? Does the reference to the "tree of liberty," with its patriotic and violent associations, amount to a call for violence? Is posting a map of a courthouse and pictures of the judges an incitement to act?

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