The freedoms that we enjoy and are entitled to are not always easy to understand. For example, freedom of association is limited to groups without terrorist ties. This is a fairly obvious example, but all freedoms are limited in fairly nuanced ways as well. In many senses, the freedom that comes with the most nuanced limitations is freedom of speech.

Even though freedom of speech is explicitly protected by the First Amendment, Americans are not free to speak or express themselves in absolutely any way they please. When expression imposes upon another’s individual freedoms, chances are that this expression is not protected under the First Amendment.

This is a critical lesson for Americans, because a failure to grasp what limitations exist on our freedoms can land individuals in trouble either civilly, criminally or both. For example, one Wisconsin case recently reinforced the practical reality that stalking is not considered an expression protected as free speech. In addition to violating another’s right to privacy, stalking can complicate any allegations of domestic violence an individual may face.

According to a recent piece published by the State Bar of Wisconsin, state law says that “any individual who engages in a ‘course of conduct’ that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress or to fear serious bodily injury or death to the person or a member or his or her family is guilty of a Class I felony.”

As a result, a Wisconsin man who recently argued that stalking his former wife was protected activity under the First Amendment had his argument rejected by a state court of appeals. In essence, because the legislative definition of stalking notes that such behavior imposes on the rights and freedoms of another, it is not protected expression under the First Amendment.

If you have questions about whether or not certain behavior is protected by the Constitution or could land you in hot water, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney before engaging in this behavior.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, “Wisconsin Appeals Court Downs First Amendment Challenge to Stalking Statute,” Joe Forward, Nov. 8, 2012

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