The Bizarre Thought Police
[Note: See important update/P.S. at end].
In an earlier post, I mused about the possibility of criminal responsibility for inflammatory campaign rhetoric, raising the issue as a thought experiment in much the same way that I would raise an issue in class. Predictably, the Thought Police quickly emerged to chastise me for committing crimethink – the unspeakable act of failing to address an issue in a manner pleasing to those speaking from the vantage point of an electronic soapbox. In particular, Thinkpol seems to champion the idea that the mere existence of the First Amendment invalidates the notion of criminal liability for political speech and to think otherwise is, well, “bizarre.”
I beg to differ.
Sure, courts in the United States have proven reluctant to impose liability for speech. But our courts have not said that liability may never be imposed. Could a court ever construe political speech as “advocacy … directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action”? Could political rhetoric ever amount to “speech … brigaded with action”?
First Amendment rights are not absolute. Yet. And so, like Jell-o, there’s always room for argument. Mental manna keeps our brains sharp. In this case, hypothetical or otherwise, it might also keep our hands clean.
Fight the urge to crimestop. We don’t need no thought control.
Important P.S.: The tone of this post was intended to be defiantly tongue-in-cheek. In hindsight, however, I realize that someone as dedicated as Walter Olson to preserving our civil liberties might be affronted by my post. I have since spoken with Mr. Olson and assured him that I intended no harm. Hats off to Mr. Olson for his gracious response!