Rep. Earnest Smith has a curious understanding of the First Amendment. Smith is upset that someone photoshopped his picture by placing his head on the body of a porn star. He has responded by seeking to make such photoshopping a crime and insisting that “No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right.” That is news to many of us.
The photoshop stunt was the work of Georgia Politics Unfiltered blogger Andre Walker who noted that “I cannot believe Rep. Earnest Smith thinks I’m insulting him by putting his head on the body of a well-built porn star.”
It is Smith’s understanding of free speech rather than aesthetics that concern me. His new misdemeanor crime would apply to the alteration of any photograph that “causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction.”
I have criticized this trend in columns (here and here) and numerous blogs on the criminalization of using artificial turf to growing vegetable gardens to eating french fries in the subway. This is a prime example since there are already avenues in torts, including defamation and appropriation of name or likeness, that can be used for valid injuries. Of course, parody is often treated as an exception and the first amendment can bar the use of torts by public officials in some cases. In New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), the Supreme Court held public officials to a higher standard for a myriad of reasons, including “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The Court imposed the actual malice standard in recognition that “erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and that it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the “breathing space” that they “need . . . to survive.” Where Alabama sought to use civil liability, Smith would have Georgia go one better and introduce criminal penalties in that breathing space to chill speech.
Here is part of his bio:
A graduate of Augusta State University’s Hull School of Business with a BBA in Marketing and minor in International Business and Finance, he also attended South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Rep. Smith is multi-lingual, fluent in Spanish and Turkish.
A committed Christian, Rep. Smith praised the Lord through music for many years as a member of the vocal group Wisdom (The Distinguished Men of Gospel). He hosts “Community Matters,” a radio talk show on WAAW – 94.7 “Shout” FM, a Christian radio station in the Augusta-Aiken, CSRA regional market. He is an active member of Second Baptist Church. Rep. Smith is a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Upsilon Gamma Gamma Graduate Chapter.
The other sponsor is Pam Dickerson who shows the same contempt for free speech in supporting the legislation. This is her first term in office and she seems to have wasted no time in trying to dismantle core constitutional protections.
Source: Daily Mail