• Sealed with a Kiss: State Blogging Rules Unconstitutional

    September 12, 2011 // Comments Off on Sealed with a Kiss: State Blogging Rules Unconstitutional

    Though you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, actual restraints on free speech are rare (though law enforcement constantly seeks to criminalize political statements). Our courts have generally been loathe to support limits on speech, and particularly have demanded the government justify any instances where it believes it can regulate speech. Speaking freely, in all its forms, is the cornerstone of a government of, by and for the people. We need to be free to talk back, to be rude, to be foolish, to be offensive, to question. It is what America is when America is at its best.

    The State Department seems to know this. The Department famously asked Twitter to stay online while Iran was fussing around with an election, and State has spoken out for the rights of bloggers in China and elsewhere. Hillary herself said the Arab Spring owes much to social media and the free speech it engenders. State stated in reference to a Vietnamese blogger:

    No individual should be prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Vietnam’s prosecution of individuals for expressing their views contradicts the government’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Closer to home, actually at home, State takes a different point of view. The Department has brainwashed its staff into believing they give up their First Amendment rights at the Foggy Bottom door, using internal regulations and the boogy man of “security” to exercise prior restraint inside its own hallways.

    The conundrum is seen clearly in the yes-no language concerning diplomats’ right to free speech in social media. Have a look at the regulations; State imposes a lot of restraints on speech quite casually, including a prohibition against its employees using the State Department Seal in any blog posting.

    State of course can’t stop real citizens from using the Seal, and a quick Google search shows it is employed by bloggers, news sites, commercial sites and pretty much anyone else.

    Now it seems the law has chipped away at State’s arbitrary restraints on speech, specifically the prohibition directed at its employees toward the damn Seal.

    In US District Court, restrictions on the use of a government seal were made clearly unconstitutional. In Rothamel v. Fluvanna County, the court very clearly stated that the government cannot restrict the use of a Seal. The court wrote:

    The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality opinion). The chilling of Rothamel’s expressive activity since the promulgation of the ordinance, causing Rothamel to forgo constitutionally protected activity out of a fear of arrest, thus constitutes irreparable injury.

    (Read more about this court case)

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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq