A Lesson on the Limits of the First Amendment Ahead of President’s Visit


Preparations for President Barack Obama’s visit are well underway as are some of the security measures most people will never see. Some of those measures include the monitoring of online traffic for anything that might be perceived as a threat to the President. However, where do you draw the line between the Freedom of Speech and protecting the President? A local attorney provides some insight.


For better or for worse, everyone has an opinion. The keyboard can bring us closer together or drive us further apart. But what happens when we post something online that goes over the line?

“Well, as the old saying goes, you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater and cause a panic,” said Mike Woods, a former prosecutor who now owns a private practice. “When they talk about a threat to the President, they’re really talking about a true threat as opposed to someone who’s just being emotional or trying to get a crowd fired up for a political purpose. A true threat, what that means is the speaker has to mean it as a threat and a reasonable person would take it as a threat.”

There’s a reason our Founding Fathers put the freedom of speech in the First Amendment. However, that freedom is not absolute, Woods said.

“There was a really famous case when Lyndon B Johnson was President. A person was worried about being drafted and they said if they force me to carry a gun, the first person I’m going to shoot at is the President,” Woods said. “That is so abstract. The man hasn’t been drafted. He didn’t have a gun. The Supreme Court found that to be freedom of speech.”

If not for the freedom of speech, we couldn’t discuss this issue. Regardless of what you think of President Obama, just because you have the freedom to say something, it doesn’t always mean you should.

“There’s a big difference between what’s illegal and what’s good, common sense,” Woods said. “There’s no point in drawing attention to yourself and getting police scrutiny, even though you might not be charged with a crime.”


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