Even First Amendment Free Speech Has Limitations

I did a FACEBOOK page post on the news story where it was reported that the Route 66 cancelled the performance of comedian Kathy Griffins over a photo she had taken.

The unaltered photo shows Kathy Griffin staring wide-eyed into the camera holding a gruesome mannequins head with the face forward that looked way too real, with straw yellow hair and all, drenched and dripping with realistic looking blood and being held upright by her outstretched arm.

Frankly, when I saw it, it reminded me of all the murders ISIS committed by beheading people in public and that were telecast for political propaganda.

I am no fan of President Trump, and any one that knows me knows I am Democrat as they come.

I am a very big supporter of President Obama, but the photo was still very disturbing.

My FACEBOOK post was as follows:

“Sometimes I think I have seen it all when it comes to comedians that are vulgar, crude, and intolerant but what Kathy Griffin did was beyond the pale. I saw an unaltered photograph of her on line and did a double take. I am glad to see Route 66 did the right thing and cancelled her performance. No threat, real, perceived or in just in jest, should ever be tolerated against a President. Too much of this country’s history in my own lifetime has been altered by violence against our politicians.”

Thus far my FACEBOOK post has had 152 likes, 94 comments and 15 shares.

There has been very healthy and spirited comments over my post about freedom of speech, the press and how turnabout is fair play when it comes to President Trump and the way he and his supporters treated President Barack Obama, including a few with photos of President Obama that I considered offensive and deleted.

Here are a few of the comments with names omitted:

“… the fake right wing outrage machine just got started. They are ok with Trump’s admitted rape and racism. They are ok with Fox News hosts sexually harassing women. They are ok with the overt racist policies of this administration, but one C-level comedian goes over the line and OH MY GOD!!! OUTRAGE!!! But let us not forget Trumps real crimes and he is not worthy of our sympathy. Have at her. Hope it makes you all feel better.”

Another comment:

How is it ok for him [meaning Trump], not her? The real kick in the pants is, She is ACTUALLY a comedian, expected to be OUTRAGEOUS! He is a President and we SHOULD ALL demand better out of him. Instead we expect her to behave with decorum and him to be a crass jackass. Hmmmmmm.”

Another comment:

“Where was the concern when President Obama was hung in effigy, his image used as target, or in artwork as dead?”

A comment from an attorney that I have known for many years said of my post:

“Pete, are you really outraged? Or, are you running for something… again? Save your fake outrage. This is the state of political discourse in today’s reality. Accept it and move on.”

Still another comment:

“I resoundly disagree. 1. Freedom of speech includes effigies. 2. She did it for shock value and the amount of press she is getting will more than make up for a cancellation of a little casino in NM 3. Her photo could be considered art and provocative art is meant to be over the top and create controversy. I think Rt66 are cowards for cancelling the show.”

The following comment made me think how quickly people forget:

“Just wondering, if you have any examples of “violence against our politicians.” Do you mean the assassinations of the Kennedys? I was not alive for those, but are there any recent ones? The only example of violence that includes politicians I have heard of recently, was when the candidate Gianforte beat and choked a reporter. He was then promptly elected into office. Do you think that it is fair to remove work from a comedian, and not from a politician who is supposed to be representing their state/this country? If threatened violence is so vulgar and appalling, then why isn’t actual violence treated in the same fashion? Maybe if the Republicans (mainly the actual President) should stop condoning violence, and then maybe we would see a lot less of it popping up. I find it so funny that so many conservatives got up in arms about this, but hailed Gianforte for actually beating someone up. The irony and the stupidity is not lost on me.”

What I did say in my post was violence against politicians “in my lifetime” and I listed ones that I could recall off the top of my head: President John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Governor George Wallace, President Ronald Reagan, Mayor Mosconi and City Councilor Harvey Milk of San Francisco both assassinated, US Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona.

I also mentioned the Kirkwood City Council shooting that occurred on February 7, 2008, where a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a public meeting in the city hall, leaving six people dead and two others injured.

I have no doubt what Kathy Griffins did was protected free speech, but that does not make it right or that she should have done it and she is now suffering the consequences even though she has apologized more than once for it.

Just because something is protected free speech does not mean you go ahead and do it.

I once heard a very prominent civil rights attorney give a lecture in Albuquerque who worked for the ACLU and who said that private citizens can walk up to uniform police officers and call them any name in the book they want, even using the “F word”, in protest, and he said it is protected free speech.

He then went on to say “But why would you do that to anyone who is carrying a gun?”

The point is, protected free speech has limitations that requires one to use your common sense.

Our first amendment right of free speech does have limitations.

There is a very old case taught in law school where the United States Supreme Court found free speech does not mean you can stand up in a packed theater and falsely yell “fire” causing a stampede for the exits.

What is really bothering me is the level of political discourse in this country that is being held out as just “free speech” that has such violent overtones, that promotes violence, promotes racial discrimination, promotes religious intolerance against others, and promotes hate and distrust of others, and that denigrates women and minorities.

In Feiner v. People of State of New York, 30 U.S. 315 (1951), the Supreme Court held that akin to the fighting words doctrine, an incitement to riot which creates a clear and present danger is also not protected by the First Amendment.

Too much intolerance is being promoted by our elected officials and President Trump has done more than his fair share of it, especially when he ran for office, but that does not mean violence against him should be condoned.

After watching what has been happening in Washington the last three months, I cannot but help wondering what is our country coming to, what are we becoming as a nation, what are we doing to ourselves?

We are a nation of laws, and I am absolutely confident things will unfold as they should in Washington without so called “free speech” that is nothing more than promoting violence against others.

As Americans, we need to come together, be tolerant and respect each other, confront our demons and set aside our differences and seek within ourselves to find solutions to our problems, our differences, without violence, before we destroy each other, and the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
― Aeschylus

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.