US military court rules racist online speech protected by First Amendment

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official website] Tuesday ruled [PDF text] that racist comments made online by a US Army soldier were protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The court confirmed that the free speech rights of military personnel were more limited than those of civilians because they had to be balanced against military policy and readiness, but found that statements made by Pfc. Jeremy T. Wilcox were not actionable because they did not interfere with his job performance or with any military mission:

There is no evidence that any of Appellant’s statements were directed at military members or ever reached his unit. And it is pure speculation that the racist views propounded on the Internet by a single person purporting to be a paratrooper either were viewed or would be viewed by other servicemembers or would be perceived by the public or a servicemember as an expression of Army or military policy.
Military prosecutors charged Wilcox with making statements that discredited the Armed Forces and were contrary to discipline based on white supremacist beliefs expressed in his AOL profile.

At his initial court martial, Wilcox was sentenced to eight months confinement and a bad-conduct discharge. Tuesday's decision overturned that verdict and remanded the case to the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals [official website]. AP has more.

 

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