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Cops Can’t Take a Joke? The First Amendment Doesn’t Care

“The First Amendment does not depend on whether everyone is in on the joke.” So ruled a federal appeals court this week in another case of someone arrested over his Facebook speech.

The ruling stems from a parody police page created by Anthony Novak of Ohio. He set it up to poke fun at and criticize cops in his local Parma Police Department.

“Novak’s page delighted, disgusted, and confused,” notes the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in its recent ruling. “Not everyone understood it. But when it comes to parody, the law requires a reasonable reader standard, not a ‘most gullible person on Facebook’ standard.”

The court ruled in favor of Novak, who had been investigated and arrested by the actual Parma Police Department. After going to trial and getting acquitted, Novak sued the City of Parma and sevearl Parma PD officers. The city argued that qualified immunity for police prevented Novak from bringing the suit.

The 6th Circuit court’s ruling this week says that Novak does indeed have a right to sue.

“Apple pie, baseball, and the right to ridicule the government” all hold “an important place in American history and tradition,” states the court’s opinion.

Whether Novak’s page was “a protected parody in the great American tradition of ridiculing the government or a disruptive violation of state law” is still undetermined, noted 6th Circuit Judge Amul Thapar. But what was clear to the court is that Parma cops aren’t entitled to a blanket qualified immunity here.


FREE MINDS

Regressive right and illiberal left unite to quash online speech. Section 230 is “just about the most libertarian, free speech law on the books,” in the words of its original sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.). Is it any wonder that many politicians are trying to kill it?

From Tucker Carlson and Ted Cruz to Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris, both the right and the left have been blasting this foundational internet law for allegedly enabling “big tech” bias and a host of horrific crimes. But what it actually enables is for all of us plebes to talk without Washington having the final say.

See my new article—”Section 230 Is the Internet’s First Amendment. Now Both Republicans and Democrats Want To Take It Away)for more details on how this law came to be, why it’s so important, who is trying to destroy it, and what that would mean for all of us.


FREE MARKETS

New York just decriminalized marijuana—sort of. Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that removes criminal penalties for possessing smaller amounts of marijuana and also expunges some pot possession convictions.

Under the new measure, set to take effect in 30 days, possessing under two ounces of pot will no longer be an offense that can get you thrown in jail or give you a permanent criminal record. But it’s still a ticketable offense that comes with a fine of $50 to $100.

“The bill does not change the charges or penalties for possession of larger amounts of marijuana,” nor does it “legalize or decriminalize marijuana dealing or sales,” points out NYUp.com. “It does add marijuana to the definition of ‘smoking’ under state health laws—meaning that smoking marijuana will be prohibited in any circumstances where smoking tobacco is also prohibited (like bars and restaurants).”


ELECTION 2020

The second round of Democratic presidential debates takes place tonight and tomorrow night. This time, the ruckus starts at 8 p.m. and will be televised by CNN (and streamed on CNN.com). The candidate roster this time around is basically the same, but with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock swapped for Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.), who dropped out of the running earlier this month.

Tonight’s debate will feature Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson.

Wednesday night’s debate will feature Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, and Andrew Yang.


QUICK HITS

  • Stationing U.S. troops as migrant detention center guards may breach federal law, said Rep. John Garamendi (D–Calif.), and it is “certainly mission creep,” since it’s “not the role of the U.S. military to be a prison guard.”
  • Once again blending the big-goverment zeal of his Democratic counterparts and the panicky howls of 1980s church ladies, Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) is introducing a bill to ban “addictive” features on social media.
  • Sanders takes aim at Harris’ “Medicare for All” plan:

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About The Author

Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Founded in 1968, Reason is the magazine of free minds and free markets. We produce hard-hitting independent journalism on civil liberties, politics, technology, culture, policy, and commerce. Reason exists outside of the left/right echo chamber. Our goal is to deliver fresh, unbiased information and insights to our readers, viewers, and listeners every day. Visit https://reason.com

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