Posts Tagged With: Freedom of Speech

North Carolina Criminalizes the Truth

Free SpeechA new law criminalizing online student speech went into effect in North Carolina on Saturday. Known as the 2012 School Violence Prevention Act (who doesn’t want to prevent violence?), the law criminalizes student-on-teacher cyberbullying, meaning that public school students who use computers with the “intent to intimidate or torment” school employees will now be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor — the equivalent of a simple assault or resisting arrest charge which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The law would make even the truth illegal since it prohibits online statements “whether true or false, intending to immediately provoke, and that is likely to provoke, any third party to stalk or harass a school employee.”

The problem here is that the terms “intimidate” and “torment” are not defined and essentially leave it up to the school employee to determine whether or not the speech was criminal. It in effect creates a text book example of the heckler’s veto. As written, it serves little more purpose than to protect government officials from criticism by chilling free speech.

Consider the fact that it would criminalize such things as:

  • A student objecting to a decision by school officials on his personal Facebook page
  • A student in a chat room stating that they don’t like a particular teacher
  • A student posting a complaint about offensive comments made by a teacher in class
  • A student making an accurate and truthful comment on Facebook that exposes a teacher who is having an inappropriate relationship with another student.

“This law is so vague that it could easily result in a student being arrested simply for posting something on the Internet that a school official finds offensive,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston.

It is another example of law makers passing a well-intentioned yet poorly written law in the hopes of appearing to be effective in the fight against cyberbullying. Does the cyberbullying of school employees occur? Without a doubt. Is this law, as it is written, the proper response to protect against such acts? No way.

Categories: U.S. Events | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Free to Speak Your Mind (as long as you agree with THEM)

Bal Thackery Funeral Procession

Hundreds of thousands of people flood the streets of Mumbai  during Bal Thackery’s funeral procession

Last month, police in India arrested two women for “hurting religious sentiments” after complaints that one of them had posted a complaint regarding the virtual shutdown of the city of Mumbai during the funeral procession of Bal Thackeray, the divisive founder of the rightwing Shiv Sena party (the other woman was arrested for “liking” the comment). The Shiv Sena party has long been criticized as a “hindu extremist” group whose street gangs use the threat of violence to pressure businesses in Mumbai to give preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city. According to Police Inspector Uttam Sonawane, the woman’s comment “said people like Thackeray are born and die daily, and one should not observe a ‘bandh’ (city shutdown) for that.”

Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, calls the accusations against the 21 year old women “absurd” and demanded that action be taken against the police involved in the case. ” In a letter to the chief minister of the Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, Katju expressed his extreme displeasure, “We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship.”

While India’s constitution does guarantee the freedom of speech to each of its citizens, it enables the legislature to impose “reasonable” restrictions in order to protect state security, foreign relations, public order, decency and morality, defamation, and the nation’s sovereignty. Of course, what is “reasonable” is open to interpretation, and the two unnamed women were arrested after a local Shiv Sena leader complained to police that the comment had offended the religious beliefs of the Maharashtrians.

This case comes on the heels of the arrest of political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in September on charges of sedition for his anti-corruption cartoons criticizing government officials in Mumbai.

Cases like this should serve as a nut-punch to those who contemplate placing ANY restrictions on speech in the U.S. Laws that seek to place “reasonable” restrictions on our freedoms in order to protect other people’s sensibilities seem great when we are offended by the speech in question, but those laws will always backfire when someone who disagrees with us is in power and is easily offended by our opinions.

Categories: World Events | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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