Prominent Philadelphia blogger Joshua Scott Albert has retained renowned free speech advocate Lloyd Long, III to defend him from charges of Harassment, Terroristic Threats, and Solicitation of Murder. These serious charges were filed in reaction to several blog posts in which Mr.. Albert expressed incendiary political opinions and called for the demise of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and two Philadelphia public officials. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania now seeks to deprive Mr. Albert of his liberty by incarcerating him for his expression. While some of Mr. Albert’s blog posts may be ludicrous and irresponsible, they are not criminal. The Commonwealth’s attempt to zealously prosecute Mr. Albert is farcical and will serve to chill political speech in the future.
The First Amendment to our United States Constitution established that the government “shall make no law” abridging the freedom of speech. Still, difficulties arise when an act of speech becomes something more and crosses into the realm of conduct, which is punishable. In the landmark case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the United States Supreme Court established a two-part test to guide us in such circumstances. The Court held that the government may only penalize speech as conduct if it is (1) “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.” 26-year-old Albert may have foolishly called for the death of Mitt Romney on his blog, but is this message, which was typed on a laptop in his home apartment, at all “likely” to cause it? Absolutely not.
As part of our healthy democracy, it is essential that we protect ideas that are not only unpopular, but that are occasionally outrageous and distasteful. In order to protect minority opinions and prevent tyranny by the majority, we all must tolerate unpleasant speech from time to time. The Founding Fathers were wise in reasoning that the marketplace of ideas should function as the arbiter of speech – not the government. We can debate the merits of Mr. Albert’s views and pass judgment accordingly, but as a modern society, we cannot deprive him of his liberty because he has not engaged in criminal conduct.
Mr. Long is eager to advocate for Mr. Albert’s personal freedom and to ensure that free speech rights are preserved for all Pennsylvanians.