There’s a story firing around the web today — and getting a major amount of news media attention — that shouting or writing “F*** Biden” is “not just dangerous … but such threats may be criminal, too.”
In response, permit me a few f-bombs myself: Fake, False, Fictional, Fraudulent, Foolish.
Simply shouting or writing a vulgar expletive at or about President Joe Biden, or any other politician or public figure, is not going to bring criminal charges.
Follow those word with actions that can be deemed a “true threat” and then you might just move things outside First Amendment protection. But it’s the conduct, not the concept, that might cross a legal line.
This latest viral sensation comes, according to news reports, from a site which labels itself as a parody site, intent on poking fun at liberals.
For those who didn’t get the joke, or didn’t want to, multiple comments on that site appear to come from people treating the headline as serious — and then going to some length to decry aforementioned “liberals” as holding that it was ok to direct such epithets at former President Donald Trump, but not at Biden.
Well, relax. We are free to curse at or insult or demean our leaders irrespective of political party. We have been doing just that since the nation was founded. An online search quickly will bring up what early critics and newspaper editors said of presidents starting with Washington, moving on to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and picking up steam right through Abraham Lincoln and beyond. Washington was called a traitor. The triple-threat insult “a syphilitic bastard royalist” was directed toward Adams. Lincoln was compared to an ape and called a “country bumpkin.”
A not-so-funny observation is that this momentary online fever is fueled to some degree by those who are ignorant about what the First Amendment really protects, or who hope to profit from others’ lack of knowledge. As for the news media, perhaps it’s a moment to pursue something other than COVID, Afghanistan, border crises or a diplomatic flap over Australian submarines.
The Freedom Forum has been asking Americans what they know about the First Amendment for decades. Now the nonpartisan foundation is releasing results of a landmark survey asking not just what we know but about our values and attitudes today about the First Amendment. To join on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. Eastern for an exclusive unveiling of “Where America Stands,” register here.
In the meantime, talk or write about Biden, Trump — or Washington or Lincoln — in whatever terms you want with impunity. That’s f*** speech for real.
By Gene Policinski, Freedom Forum senior fellow for the First Amendment. You can reach Gene Policinski at [email protected]