Friday, August 12, 2011

First Amendment, Right?

There is an interesting case which recently surfaced and it relates to our First Amendment Rights and blogging.  I've been reading all the comments both for and against.  Before I describe to you what is happening I want to set out the actual First Amendment Rights as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It is my understanding this Amendment speaks to 5 freedoms:  (1) freedom to speak freely without government intervention, (2) freedom of press, (3) freedom of religion, (4) freedom to appeal or lobby to legislative bodies for or against legislation, and (5) freedom to peacefully gather in public, to march, demonstrate, protest, or otherwise express views.  Further, originally this applied to only those laws enacted by the Federal government but has since been ruled by the Supreme Court to include state and local governments.  Sounds pretty simple to me.

So, here is the story.  A man by the name of Anthony Morelli who lives in Pennsylvania had a blog which he started in 2007.  For 4 years he posted hundreds of blog entries.  The blog was entitled "The Psycho Ex Wife" which of course can be seen as offensive right there.  He posted as they were going through embittered divorce and custody battles.  Further, he posted anonymously, keeping all names out.  Their two sons are currently 10 and 12 years old.  At present the two parents have joint custody.  The ex-wife is an alcoholic and is believed to suffer from a personality disorder. 

The tag line on Morelli's blog was "The true account of a marriage, divorce and subsequent custody fight between a loving man, his terrorist ex-wife who we suspect suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and the husband's new partner."  With this blog, Morelli created a community (approximately 200,000 visitors per month) and several forums where people in a similar circumstance could discuss child custody issues, parental alienation syndrome and other assorted divorce challenges.  Now that is a strong community and for many, a much needed support group, as they wade through some very grueling court battles and all the days in between. 

I know what it is like to live with someone whose sanity is in question.  Had this blog existed 20 years ago, I would have been a daily visitor myself.  I was dealing with the safety of my children and myself and eventually worked through all the issues, both safety and the legalities of the divorce.  Then I had a similar issue...when the court allowed for my ex-husband to have very limited visitation rights.  After just a handful of visits he disappeared once again so my concerns were put to rest.  With only an occasional call from him once every few years I eventually learned we were relatively safe, his threats of hurting us turned out to be empty.

All that aside though, the reason I have brought this to you is to discuss First Amendment Rights,  Judge Diane Gibbons who was presiding over the Morelli custody case ordered Morelli to shut down his blog on June 6th of this year or lose joint custody of his kids.  She banned him from mentioning his ex-wife or his children on any public media.

Now you see the question, does the Court have the right to order that blog stopped or punish the blogger if he doesn't do what is ordered.  It seems we are looking at two aspects of the First Amendment.  One, freedom of speech says we have the right to speak freely without government interference.  And, two, freedom of press establishes the right to publish news, information and opinions without government intervention.  This includes newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc.  Wouldn't it then include blogs, for really they are just a form of newsletter?

We could argue the pro's and con's all day as to its content.  It seems to me if it mischaracterizes the ex-wife then she has a libel/slander suit on her hands, although we don't hear anything about that.   The judge appears to be concerned about the children being subjected to this information about their mom (as if they aren't living in the midst of it) and calls it abusive.  Yet we are not hearing her concern for the safety of the children in the clutches (and custody) of their alcoholic mother.  I was married to an alcoholic, and I divorced him for that reason and all the abuse that goes along with alcoholism.  I needed to raise my children in a healthy environment and could accept nothing less for their sake.  Where is the judge standing on that?  As I said, we could argue all day long the pro's and con's but what is legally accurate? 

As always, your comments are welcome and I invite you to research the topic yourself as there is a great deal of media out there concerning this and even more peoples' comments who swear the blog was the best thing or the worst thing.  What are your thoughts to the shut down of a blog that was just being brutally honest?


  1. Audrey, I believe the judge was wrong. Plain and simple. I believe his First Amendment rights have been violated. Whether or not I agree with things he may have said about his ex-wife and their custody battle, about putting his and her and their children's private lives out for public view, or with his taste in doing so, is irrelevant. That's my opinion.

  2. I believe the judge was wrong, too. Period.

    (And sorry I'm just now reading this - and commenting!)

  3. Audrey, Happy to hear that your attorney/lawyer has given you the green light (again) to Blog on.

    This topic and Blog Post are perfect choices in which to choose for getting back in the saddle. Especially since you’ve personally experienced having your 1st Amendment rights toyed with.

    Just this week we learned that in California, the police shut down cell phone towers to prevent citizens from gathering to protest police brutality. They say that California is the testing grounds for the new & unproved and then it spreads eastward. This incident appears to be a ‘police department’ violating wiretapping laws to suppress the citizens from gathering. Times are changing. In the old days, they probably had to tell the mailman to take the day off and actually cut phone lines.

    The police in several eastern states have been allowed to arrest normal everyday folks for filming public servants in public while on duty doing normal everyday functions of their duties. The crime - violating wiretapping laws in which the District Attorneys have been more than happy to file charges with the courts enabling through allowing. Resulting in Juries convicting their own peers for felony crimes with Taxpayers happily picking up the tab.

    We see camera crews daily on; Cops, Jail & numerous made for TV public servant related reality shows. We see John Stewart, Conan, Letterman, numerous celebrities & CNN rags like Nancy Grace, & The Caferty Files talk smack and/or blog about people on a daily basis and we haven’t heard anything about them being ordered shut down. But we have learned about news organizations cameramen being arrested for filming police in public only to see them released.

    In Pennsylvania, we see a Family Court Judge thumb her nose and flick her robe at the United States Constitution and the Amendments attached in the name of the children and their safety. Like you mentioned, where’s the real concern? For if she truly felt they where in harms way the CPS would’ve been raiding his home instead of basically stopping his mail or cutting his phone lines.

    This will not stand unless “we the people” role over like the weak and diluted citizens of California and the cowards in the few eastern states imprisoning photographers. Cutting the public’s access to their own cell phones, texting, Internet services is exactly what’s happening in Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, Russia.

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