Hoaxes not Protected under the First Amendment

Turns out there are real penalties for saying stupid things. I’m Amy E. Feldman.

A Texas man thought April of 2020 would be a great time for a little prank about COVID. He made two Facebook posts saying he’d paid a COVID-positive friend to lick everything in two San Antonio grocery stores.  Turned out, he hadn’t paid anyone to lick anything. It was just a joke! Huh.  He was arrested under a federal law that criminalizes hoaxes about biological weapons. Who even knew there was such a highly specific—and particularly applicable—statute?  

Well, he now does, since he was convicted and sentenced to fifteen months in jail. He appealed claiming, among other things, it violated his right to free speech. But the court disagreed, saying the right to free speech has limits, and his posts, though false, constituted a threat, which isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Best to remember you can’t always take back your words with a “just kidding,” and beyond your right to free speech, maybe remember, you also have a right to remain silent.

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