Even “Particularly Repugnant” Speech Is Free Speech

Public domain picture of scalesAccording to an article I ran across from USA Today, “particularly repugnant” speech is free speech.  At least that’s what the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision to overturn Walter Bagdasarian’s conviction for threatening to “shoot” a presidential candidate.

The article cites a piece which appeared in the Los Ageles Times:

The observation that Obama “will have a 50 cal in the head soon” and a call to “shoot the [racist slur]” weren’t violations of the law under which Bagdasarian was convicted because the statute doesn’t criminalize “predictions or exhortations to others to injure or kill the president,” said the majority opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

Now admittedly, I don’t know all the facts in this case, and I can’t seem to find the full context in which Bagdasarian’s comments were made, but it seems to me that the right decision was made.  How many of us have said things that, taken out of context, could be viewed as threats? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve threatened to kill my husband in the heat of the moment.  “When I get my hands on him, I’m gonna KILL ‘im!” But that doesn’t really mean I intend to commit a homicide.

While I certainly don’t condone the idea of murdering a presidential candidate for whom I would not vote, I support a drunk guy’s right to say stupid and inflammatory things that aren’t meant to be taken seriously.  So that my right to free speech can be protected, I have to accept (and embrace) the fact that other people are going to say things that I’d never say.  They’re going to say things that turn my stomach.  But isn’t that part of what makes this country great?

Props to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding our Constitutional right to express our own stupidity!

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