US Court: Mailing Fake Anthrax Is Not Protected Speech

How different is the American protection of freedom of speech to Australia’s? This different:

A California man convicted for mailing small packets of sugar marked as Anthrax to promote a book about the deadly toxin had no First Amendment free speech right to carry out the 2008 campaign that left victims horrified, a federal appeals court ruled.

Sure, the court ruled against the free speech argument. The First Amendment does not protect speech “presenting some grave and imminent threat the government has the power to prevent”. But Australians – with our heavy handed defamation laws, hate speech and discrimination laws, broadcast regulations, anti-terror laws, even obscenity laws – would be amazed that a free speech argument for a hoax biological terrorist attack was even possible.

One oddity of the judgement though. The court refers to what should be the most utterly discredited doctrine in free speech thinking: the “fire in a crowded theatre” principle, which is, and always has been, meaninglessly vague, and used to limit all sorts of speech which should be protected.


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