GUEST OPINION: Free speech and the right to be crass

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President, First Amendment Center
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.

Ken Paulson is president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and in Washington, D.C. Previously, Paulson served as the editor and senior vice president/news of USA Today.