U.S. Judge Rules in Favor of "Uncomfortable Speech" via Twitter, Dismisses Stalking Case

Paul Lilly

A federal judge this week sided with a man accused of stalking a Buddhist religious leader on Twitter, ruling that the Constitution protects "uncomfortable" speech, even when it may cause "substantial emotional distress." Judge Roger W. Titus dismissed the government's case against William Lawrence Cassidy in a 27-page order outlining the details.

The New York Times reports Cassidy was accused of harassing and causing emotional distress to Alyce Zeoli by posting thousands of online messages about her, including a few that predicted she would succumb to a violent death.

"Even though the Internet is the newest medium for anonymous, uncomfortable expression touching on political or religious matters, online speech is equally protected under the First Amendment," the judge wrote .

In other parts of the order, the judge stated that "the First Amendment protects speech even when the subject or manner of expression is uncomfortable" and that "Twitter and blogs are today's equivalent of a bulletin board that one is free to disregard." In that respect, Ms. Zeoli "had the ability to protect her 'own sensibilities simply by averting' her eyes from the [Cassidy's] blog and not looking at, or blocking his tweets."

Ms. Zeoli told NYT via email that she was "appalled and frightened by the judge's ruling." It's not yet known if her legal team will appeal the decision.

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