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Military Court Finds Right to be Racist

The First Amendment prohibits criminal prosecution of a U.S. Army paratrooper for racist statements he made online, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has ruled in a July 15 decision, United States v. Wilcox. The soldier, Private First Class Jeremy T. Wilcox, faced charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice related to statements he posted online and made in online chat rooms that were racist and that expressed support for white supremacy. While emphasizing that it did not approve of the soldier's statements, the court, in an opinion written by Judge Margaret A. Ryan, ruled that the government had not shown sufficient grounds to bring charges against him.

[T]he issue in this case is whether Appellant's statements constituted a criminal offense in light of the evidence set forth in the record of this case, not whether this Court approves of the statements made by the Appellant. We do not. But condemnation and conviction are drastically different when the First Amendment is involved, and our disagreement with his statements cannot substitute for the Government's failure to introduce evidence legally sufficient to meet the element of either service discrediting behavior or prejudice to good order and discipline necessary for a conviction.

In a lengthy dissent, Judge James E. Baker took issue with the majority's reliance on the First Amendment:

The fact that Appellant's words appeared on the Internet on a profile does not transform this case from one of public conduct to one of private conduct. The Internet profile is the modern equivalent of standing on a street corner in uniform with a sign saying 'I'm in the Army and I am a racist and Aryan extremist.' This may not be a busy corner -- we should hope that it is not -- but it is a public corner nonetheless.

Read more about the case from Jurist Paper Chase and Associated Press.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 18, 2008 at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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