Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is arguing in the U.S. Supreme Court that Ohio’s election law banning candidates from making false statements with malice is unconstitutional.
DeWine says the law has a “chilling” impact on free speech and on organizations that want to advertise against a candidate, according to legal filings.
“Ohio law prohibits the use of false statements in both candidate campaigns and ballot issue campaigns,” reads the website of Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler. “Included in statute are specific prohibitions against making false statements about a candidate’s schooling or training, indictments or convictions, treatment for a mental illness or voting record as a public official.”
DeWine argues that the law “polices not just false speech, but speech that indisputably is protected under the First Amendment.”
The legal challenge involves a case in which a political action committee was accused of violating state election laws by making false statements in a tweet, as well as another case in which a billboard owner refused to put up a nonprofit’s sign after the candidate it criticized, former Rep. Steve Driehaus, Democrat, filed a complaint with the state elections commission.
DeWine says the law intimidates opponents and makes them waste time and money responding to complaints.
“The speaker is forced to use time and resources responding to the complaint, typically at the exact moment that the campaign is peaking and his time and resources are best used elsewhere,” DeWine wrote. “In other words, the state has constructed a process that allows its enforcement mechanisms to be used to extract a cost from those seeking to speak out on elections, right at the most crucial time for that particular type of speech. And if the allegations turn out to be unfounded, there is no possibility of timely remedy.”
Do rights have limits? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, however, it is almost universally accepted that speech urging others to commit crimes—specifically violent crimes against an individual or group—is justly illegal. While technically limiting expression, the law serves to protect those who may be unwittingly harmed from expression that has malicious intent.
This mirrors the debate around controversial “Religious Freedoms” laws being consider in states in the U.S. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a passed law on Wednesday that would have allowed business owners to deny service to LGBT customers based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill passed in Mississippi, only its anti-LGBT application is much more subtle.
SB 2681 is called “The Religious Freedom Act” and a quick read of the language of the bill would lead one to believe that this is one of those ceremonial laws because all it does is add “In God We Trust” to the State Seal. However it is the first line of the bill where the trouble lies, reading “…to provide that state action or an action by an person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.”
Again, on the surface this would seem to simply reaffirm one of America’s most universal freedoms, one already protected by the First Amendment. However, what exactly constitutes a burden from the State? Well, one such burden might be law preventing discrimination against LGBT citizens.
Although, Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, Miss., has said that he’s urging his colleagues to remove or redraft the language of the bill to ensure that it does not encourage discrimination. In the Miss. House, however, the Chariman of the Judiciary Committee is not wholly sold on the idea that the bill needs to be redone, telling the Associated Press, saying there are “questions” and that they “just need to study it.”
Spearville Elementary school in western Kansas is coming under fire for a cross displayed the building’s roof. A resident complained about it, and now, an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state has asked that the cross be removed.
Spearville is the only public school in the district, and is home to grades from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) has said that the cross violates the First Amendment in that it “conveys or attempts to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.”
In November, the group sent the school a letter asking for a response within 30 days, and followed it up with another letter on January 9. The school district has chosen not to respond, although a board member has been noted as calling the request “ridiculous.”
The School’s Board of Education has said that the cross will not be removed until a formal lawsuit is filed.
School Superintendent Daryl Stegman commented that “the community stood very firmly that they didn’t want to do anything unless they have to.”
“Worst comes to worst I think you have to take it off,” said Stegman.
Although in past cases, the Supreme Court has upheld religious displays on certain government buildings, different rules may apply in this case because the building in question is an elementary school.
Ultimately, the difference comes down to the fact that schooling at this level is compulsory: children have to attend school.
“Students don’t have a choice to be there,” said Ian smith, an attorney for AUSCS. “Something that might be OK elsewhere is not necessarily going to be OK in a public school.”
As Jeffrey Jackson, law professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said, students at this young age are “fairly impressionable and more vulnerable for indoctrination in religion.”
The school was built in 1925 and was initially a Catholic school, but was transferred to the local district in 1975. Because of its old age, it might be able to seek protection as a historical building. As such, Jackson said that the cross could be viewed a historical rather than religious element of the building.
Smith has said that if the school does not comply and take down the cross, the group will explore further legal options.
Photo Source: USD 381
Pittsburgh Rappers Sentenced for Threatening Police in a Song: True Threat or First Amendment Violation?
Two young men were sentenced to prison for a slew of charges all stemming from an arrest made after the pair recorded and released a rap video that referenced both convicted cop-killer Richard Poplawski and two specific officers who previously arrested them.
Jamal Knox, age 19, and Rashee Beasley, age 22, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who go by the rap monikers “Mayhem Mal” and “Soulja Beaz” respectively, were arrested on March 20, 2013. They lied about their identities and ran from police, but it all began because they made a rap song and the police took it seriously.
The ruling, handed down by Allegheny County judge Jeffrey Manning, dismissed the plaintiffs’ First Amendment concerns according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This isn’t about freedom of speech,” he told the court. “It clearly was intimidation of witnesses. It clearly was terroristic threats.” Since the video was removed from YouTube, there is no way to know for sure the context.
Pittsburgh attorney Samuel J. Cordes was quoted in the Tribune-Review saying the song flirts with the line between protected speech and the true threat law. “They were expressing a view, however unpopular that it may be,” Cordes said. “On the other side of the coin, they did it while awaiting trial about the officers who were going to testify against them.”
While this is true, the question actually hinges on whether or not the rappers, as stated in Virginia v. Black, “subjectively intend[ed] that [their] comments be interpreted as a true threat.” Knox said in open court that his “Mayhem Mal” moniker represents a character. “As a rapper, you have to put on an image,” he said. “It's not just Jamal Knox being a rapper. My product is Mayhem Mal.”
The central ethical question then involves the “thug culture” popularized by hip-hop and applied liberally to other situations, most recently the controversy surrounding Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. When discussing the emergence of gangsta rap in a cultural context, it — like millennia of art before it — documented a point of view that otherwise had gone unnoticed in society at large. Yet, with hip hop it has become somewhat aspirational.
Jay-Z, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre are all cultural icons and multimillionaire business moguls who came from the same culture of violence and drugs that these two youths were born into. If the goal is to guide these young men to the “straight-and-narrow” rather than send them to jail, why not send them to a performing arts school? Dissuade their thug persona by helping them expand their artistic perspective, rather than surround them with convicted criminals.
Writers, visual artists, and musicians have come from the impoverished, often criminalized minority for as long as there has been art. In this case, it seems very clear that where Jamal Knox and Rashee Beasley are powerless in the face of the system, Mayhem Mal and Soulja Beaz are not. They inhabit a fictional world not unlike the cowboy culture of the old west that has mythologized outlaws and gunfighters. They are feared and respected, not crippled by circumstance. They were given nothing and so they take what they want; it’s a very American archetype.
While at the University of Pittsburgh, I wrote an essay about the “gun culture” that both detailed Richard Poplawski’s gun battle with police and contained a scene where I diagrammed how I would shoot a room full of people (people who coincidentally are as real as the officers mentioned at the top of the song). Was I arrested or questioned by police? No. In fact, I was given an award for it and read the latter scene on local public radio.
The value of art is subjective, but the value of free artistic expression is an intrinsic part of the American ideal. It is all too common in modern society that when art highlights something that makes folks uncomfortable to attack the artist and not the societal truth the art exposes.
Texas Student Makes Christian T-Shirts After Atheists Forced Teacher To Remove Religious Poster (Photo)
A student in Texas and his classmates are fighting for their beliefs after one of the teachers at his school was forced to remove a religious poster from her classroom.
According to KTRE Channel 9 News, it all started when a student who was offended by the Christian poster, depicting a cross and a message about “the power of God,” contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation hoping that they could ask the school to take down all posters, symbols and scriptures.
Scott Davis, superintendent of the Rusk Independent School District, received a letter from the foundation and was asked for the removal of the poster.
Davis said he couldn’t do anything about the matter because “a teacher acting in that manner is in violation of the establishment clause” under the first amendment.
Cameron Franks, a senior at Rusk High School in Rusk, Texas, disagreed with the ruling and decided to take a stand against it by printing red Christian T-shirts for students to wear at school to publicly state their faith.
“We’ve walked our halls for four years and we’ve been persecuted and called hypocrites and everybody that’s a Christian, I’m sure they’ve had that time in their life when they’ve been persecuted and I knew it was time to take a stand,” Franks told KTRE.
The shirt, which costs $5, reads: “Let God rule your world if you want God to rock your world.” They also started a Facebook page: Stand For Jesus We Won’t Be Shaken.
The group has garnered support beyond Texas, with more than 2,000 orders from around the country.
On their Facebook page, the group says: “We are taking a stand as Christians. We are tired of our Christian rights always being violated because someone takes offense to something religious.”
Franks hope is that the shirts help people stand up for what they believe in.
“It’s not about me. It’s about God. This is for the school,” said Franks. “This is the Lord’s will and this is what needed to be done a long time ago.”
(Photo courtesy of Stand For Jesus, We Won't Be Shaken via The Blaze)
A judge in Missouri ruled that motorists can now legally flash their headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps. The right to do so, federal judge Henry E. Autrey ruled, is protected by the First Amendment.
The lawsuit stems from a 2012 incident in which Ellisville resident Michael Elli was pulled over by an officer who noticed that Elli was blinking his headlights, warning other drivers “of RADAR ahead.” Elli himself had just passed through the speed trap.
Elli pleaded not guilty on the charge; if convicted, he faced up to $1,000 in fines and points on his license.
At a hearing last year, Ellisville officials claimed that “flashing headlights could interfere with a police investigation.”
Autrey, however, refuted the point by ruling that flashing headlights is simply a reminder for people to bring their driving “in conformity with the law – whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.”
Although the charges against Elli were dropped, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on his behalf, claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated.
Numerous other towns and cities across the country have laws that prevent drivers from warning other drivers of speed traps. The ACLU has expressed hope that the Ellisville ruling will send a strong message to lawmakers throughout the country.
Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU, said that headlight flashing prompts people to drive responsibly. He noted that “people really do slow down when you flash your lights at them, and that’s safer for everyone.”
Sources: Fox News, www.consumerist.com
Photo Source: www.wptv.com
A movement called “Overpasses for America” is calling for the president’s impeachment. As you might have guessed from their name, their chosen outlets for self-expression are overpasses.
Overpasses for America is also calling for the removal of members of Congress who “disregard the constitution” and “engage in crony capitalism.”
Demonstrators in Campbell, Wis. started using the town’s pedestrian overpass to display their patriotism and to call for Obama’s impeachment in August of 2013.
After another October gathering that angered local citizens, the Town of Campbell passed an ordinance prohibiting the display of signs, flags, or banners within 100 feet of the overpass.
Chad Hawkins, the town’s clerk and treasurer, said that the ordinance was enacted with the intention of protecting those driving by. A multilane highway runs under this particular overpass, and banners overhead could easily serve as distraction to motorists.
On October 24, demonstrators gathered on the overpass, wearing T-shirts that collectively spelled “IMPEACH OBAMA.” They were ordered off the overpass by police officers who were threatening to issue citations. Amongst them was Thomas Luce, who is now pressing charges against the city.
Joining Luce in the lawsuit is Nicholas Newman, who, three days after the T-shirt incident on the overpass, displayed an American flag on the overpass and was issued a $139 citation.
The Thomas More Law Center is handling Luce and Newman’s lawsuit, which claims that their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been violated. In addition, it states that the ordinance itself is “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Hawkins has also spoken out, saying that the ordinance “was never intended to eliminate their right to speech.”
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center has said that he is “astonished that the Town of Campbell and the police department think it can ban a citizen from displaying the American Flag.”
As Thompson has elaborated, the First Amendment cannot ban expression of ideas “just because some find it offensive.”
“In fact,” Thompson said, “the Supreme Court has allowed the burning of the American Flag on the grounds that it is a matter of free expression.”
Photo Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com
Last October, a police officer stationed at a speed trap along Eldorado Parkway noticed that the westbound drivers passing by weren’t just obeying the speed limit – many of them were waving to him. When two officers drove eastbound, they discovered that a man had set up a “Police Ahead” sign in the middle of the median.
As the officer wrote in the arrest report, Ron Martin “was observed standing in the center median of the six-lane divided roadway…holding a sign in his right hand up over his shoulders.”
When he saw the officers approaching, Martin pulled out his cell phone and recorded the arrest. The officers handcuffed Martin on the spot, accusing him of violating the city’s sign ordinance.
The ordinance specifies that a person holding a sign must be on private property. Martin, who was in the median, has countered that the ordinance doesn’t apply to him because his sign was not advertising anything.
Frisco police stated that officers had seen Martin holding up signs on at least two previous occasions.
Martin argues that the First Amendment guarantees him the right to warn drivers of the speed trap, also noting that other cities already warn drivers of traffic enforcement.
Martin, 33, has said that he wants people to drive more carefully in his neighborhood, civilians and officers alike. As such, he is not opposed to speed traps; he was expressed the view that “it’s absolutely important for officers to be on the streets and enforce laws.”
He compared his own role, in holding up the sign warning of police presence, to that of the police. “Ultimately,” he said, “we’re trying to do the same exact thing. I just don’t wear a uniform.”
“I’m the same thing as a speed limit sign, just reminding people that there is a limit here,” he continued.
Martin, who on Wednesday made his first court appearance on the misdemeanor charge, has pleaded not guilty, and has asked for a February 21 trial date in Municipal Court.
The police department has said that it will not address this case publicly until the courts have made an official decision.
A similar case occurred in July of 2012, when Natalie Plummer was arrested in Houston for holding up a paper bag on which she had written the warning “Speed Trap!” Plummer was charged with a misdemeanor for “walking in the roadway where there is a sidewalk present.”
While the case centers around the issue of the sign, Martin says it actually encompasses a much broader issue: freedom of speech.
Sources: khou.com, ABC News
Photo Source: ABC News
If all goes according to state lawmakers’ plans in South Carolina, public school teachers will soon be filling a moment of silence with a prayer to begin each school day. Should the legislature pass, students who don’t wish to participate in the prayer would be allowed to simply leave the classroom.
The bill, H. 3526, was introduced in February of 2013, but is currently held up in the House Committee on Judiciary. The Supreme Court has noted that as a case of government endorsing religion, the bill violates the Constitution’s First Amendment.
Lawmakers have responded by saying that they are willing to compromise on whether the teachers lead the prayer.
As Democratic Representative Wendell Gilliard, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer, that would be fine with us.”
The teacher would merely conduct the moment of silence, and students would be free to pray to whomever they please.
“The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school," Gilliard continued.
The overwhelming majority of the bill’s sponsors in the House of Representatives are Democrats. Joining Wendell Gilliard are fellow Democrats Robert Williams, Joseph Jefferson, Carl Anderson, Bill Clyburn, Lonnie Hosey, and Robert Ridgeway III. Amongst its Republican House of Representative supporters are Liston Barfield, Heather Ammons Crawford, and Don Wells.
Sources: The Raw Story, Huffington Post
Photo Source: http://enriquesantos.com
A 43-foot-tall cross at the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge and ordered to be removed within 90 days.
The cross is a part of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial and was first challenged in 2006 by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first ruled the cross to be unlawful in 2011.
The case was then sent to the San Diego federal court where a federal judge ruled Thursday that the cross violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from establishing or endorsing a religious.
“It is unfortunate that the Ninth Circuit left the judge no choice but to order the tearing down of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross,” Bruce Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association told Fox News on Thursday. “However, we are grateful for the judge’s stay that gives us an opportunity to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
The cross was placed in La Jolla in 1954 and dedicated at an Easter Sunday ceremony being described as “a gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” according to the ACLU.
“We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country’s armed forces,” said the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Daniel Mach in a press release Thursday. “But we should honor all our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”
Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties Norma Chavez-Peterson said it is “inappropriate and unconstitutional to declare a deeply religious symbol that excludes those out of the faith as a monument to all veterans."
However, Congressman Darrel Issa, supports the cross and its inclusion in the war memorial.
“Our founding fathers did not seek to scrub all religious expression from public spaces, but rather sought to create a government and a society that respected the practice of all religious,” Issa said. “The Mount Soledad war Memorial and the landmark cross honor the veterans in the same vein as crosses that mark the grave sites of soldiers entombed at Arlington National Cemetery and other U.S. veterans cemeteries worldwide.”
The case could be appealed by the Department of Justice, but as long as the current decision stands, the cross must be taken down within 90 days.
Sources: NBC San Diego, Buzzfeed, Fox News