Facebook Comments Protected Under The First Amendment, Wisconsin Judge Rules

A Wisconsin judge ruled Thursday that one man’s vulgar comments, made on a police department’s Facebook page, did not amount to fighting words and should have been considered protected speech.

Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Paul Lundsten overturned Thomas Smith’s misdemeanor convictions for disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computerized communications system.

Prosecutors charged Smith, of Arena, Wis., in 2012 after he posted profane comments in response to a message the Arena Police Department posted on its own Facebook page thanking local citizens for their help in apprehending two black juveniles in the area.

In Smith’s profanity-filled comments he called the officers “f****** racist basturds [sic]” and likened them to male genitalia.

A jury convicted Smith in May 2013. He was sentenced to probation and community service.

Smith, now 25, argued in his appeal that his comment was protected under the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.

According to On Point, prosecutors in the case argued that Smith’s comments, because they were made towards police officers “fresh on the heels of a racially charged and dangerous situation in the community,” had the tendency to incite violence against the officers