Man ordered to take down police officer’s name and picture from Internet

March 31, 2014

As the ACLU of Missouri puts it, in its case page related to Klaffer v. Bledsoe (filed E.D. Mo. Feb. 25, 2014):

[Jordan] Klaffer is a gun owner who frequently fires his gun at objects on private property. On May 1, 2013, Jerry Bledsoe, a police officer, confronted Klaffer while responding to a noise complaint. Klaffer videotaped the interaction, where Bledsoe issued an ultimatum to Klaffer to surrender his guns or be arrested. Klaffer refused to give up his guns and was arrested for disturbing the peace.

To express his opinion that Officer Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”

Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“Gun advocates who fear the government is infringing on the Second Amendment have every right to broadcast their beliefs,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “The ACLU will always push back against government censorship.”

You can read the ACLU complaint, the protection order — which was in effect for 12 days before being vacated — and Officer Bledsoe’s petition; you can also see the video embedded below.

The order that the Missouri court issued, and that the ACLU is now suing over, strikes me as outrageous. The relevant language read,

Respondent is further ordered to remove all videos, pictures, and text data showing Petitioner’s name and picture from the internet and respondent shall refrain from posting all such data in the future.

Such an order violates the First Amendment even if it referred to a private person, I think, and certainly when it bars the posting of the name of a police officer whom one is criticizing, and a video of the officer performing his duties. I’ve written in detail about such orders, and why they are unconstitutional, in my One-to-One Speech vs. One-to-Many Speech, Criminal Harassment Laws, and “Cyberstalking”; the article chronicles how harassment and stalking laws — which were designed to stop (among other things) unwanted speech to a person — are now being used to stop unwanted speech about a person. Yet so long as the speech about a person doesn’t consist of true threats or other unprotected forms of speech, it must remain constitutionally protected. This is just the latest such incident to hit the news; I wrote about several others in the article.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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