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Very Crass But Not Illegal | Case Dismissed Against Columbia Station Man Charged With Inducing Panic for Online Commentary

Case Dismissed Against Columbia Station Man Charged With Inducing Panic for Online Commentary

Decision Helps to Protect Free Speech for Everyone

January 25, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

MEDINA, OH – Today, the Medina Municipal Court formally dismissed a charge of inducing panic against Joseph Resovsky, the Columbia Station man arrested for his online commentary in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Resovsky was arrested in December. He obtained legal aid from the ACLU of Ohio and pleaded not guilty to the inducing panic charge, arguing that his statements were protected under the First Amendment. Today, the Medina city law director explained to the court that he had reviewed the facts of the case, and determined that Resovsky’s statements were constitutionally protected.

“Today’s dismissal further confirms our argument that the defendant’s statements were protected speech under the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “His comments may have offended people, but that is not illegal.”

“One of the many terrible things about tragedies like the Connecticut shooting is the climate of fear and anxiety they create all over the country,” added Hardiman. “In times like these, a clear legal line must be drawn between threatening behavior and protected free speech. This clarity helps protect our communities as well as the First Amendment.”

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Free speech and the right to be crass

Ken Paulson

President, First Amendment Center
Monday, January 28, 2013

One measure of our freedom is how foolish we’re allowed to be in exercising our rights.

Case in point: Joseph W. Resovsky of Columbia Station, Ohio, decided to provoke some people with a grossly insensitive post on his Facebook page referring to the shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.: “I’m so happy someone shot up all those little (expletives). Viva la school shootings!!!!”

Complaints by the public led the Medina police to arrest Resovsky, charging him with “inducing panic.” Police Chief Patrick Berarducci told the Medina-Gazette that the post “was taken as a threat by many people.”

There’s a huge difference between threatening speech and stupid speech, and Resovsky’s post was clearly in the latter camp.

Apparently that view prevailed in the prosecutor’s office, leading to the dismissal of the charge last week.

I’m sure that many thought Resovsky got exactly what he deserved. But it’s not the job of government to police harsh and thoughtless comments. The First Amendment gives us the right to express ourselves, regardless of tact or merit.

The freedom to be crass doesn’t quite have the ring of other liberties, but it’s a critical guarantee in a nation founded on the free flow of ideas.

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