The Conversation

US Attorney Bill Killian: Posting Something Mean About Muslims on Social Media Might Be a Criminal Action Under Federal Civil Rights Laws

The First Amendment served us well for a time, but now it's outdated.

Remember reading that England had arrested a guy for anti-Muslim Twitter postings in the aftermath of the Woolrich slaughter? And remember thinking, "Well, this is America, that can't happen here"?


Oh yes it can. Obama's Attorney for the Eastern district of Tennessee wants you to know that if you say something untoward about Muslims, the Federal government may imprison you.

Killian and Moore will provide input on how civil rights can be violated by those who post inflammatory documents targeted at Muslims on social media. “This is an educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion,” Killian told The News Monday. “This is also to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are.” ... Killian said Internet postings that violate civil rights are subject to federal jurisdiction.


The posting he offers as a "for instance" is an egregious one. And yet this country has long protected, absolutely, egregious speech, such as hardcore pornography, for a simple reason: Either you are at liberty to say what you will or you are not. If you are constantly double-thinking every word you might say, for fear of being prosecuted, you are self-censoring, in anticipation of a possible prosecution by the government.

Rather than having a system in which people were constantly worried about imprisonment for speech, our country has evolved a simple bright-line code: Speech of all kinds, with a few exceptions that can be counted on three fingers, is absolutely protected.

Remember, the importance of this bright-line, no-exceptions rule of free speech was preached to us, even when some of us might not have liked it so much, as when hardcore pornography was afforded absolute protection under the First Amendment. In the case of hardcore pornography, it was argued -- successfully -- that having each artist weigh the possibility of an obscenity prosecution was too much of a burden on his free speech rights, and would have, unavoidably, a chilling effect on speech.

That was the rule then, and that was the rationale.

But now comes the Obama Administration to tell you that Yes, you just might be imprisoned for something you say online, so you'd better Watch What You Say.

Remember when Ari Fleischer said that, without suggesting any kind of legal penalties? Remember how the media freaked out?

But now comes the US Attorney for the Eastern district of Tennessee explicitly telling you that you may be imprisoned if a political appointee decides your political speech has crossed a line.

Somehow, I don't think Tim Robbins will be portentously howling us that a "chill wind" is blowing across our rights of free expression this week.

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