Georgia Lawmaker Doesn’t Believe First Amendment Allows for Making Fun of Politicians

Under Georgia's HB 39, images like this one from mariopiperni.com might be illegal. (Illustration by Mario Piperni based on a source image of a work by Ron Mueck.)

Under Georgia’s HB 39, images like this one from mariopiperni.com might be illegal. (Illustration by Mario Piperni based on a source image of a work by Ron Mueck.)

Several Georgia lawmakers are pushing a bill to make obscene photoshopping illegal. A similar bill was introduced last year but failed. The bill does highlight an important issue. Technology allows even a moderately skillful person to manipulate photos and make someone appear as they are not. There are instances where this is done for intimidation and bullying. That is widely accepted as wrong, but this group of lawmakers wants to take the bill a step further.

This puts the legislation smack up against the First Amendment. There are widely accepted limits to the First Amendment, including causing imminent danger by yelling “fire” in a crowded place to individual threats. While something may need to be addressed to clarify some photomanipulation, especially for minors, Georgia House Bill 39 is not that legislation. The way it is written is an assault on free speech. Even worse, one of the sponsors of the bill, Earnest Smith, is suggesting no one, including politicians, should be the victims of a photoshopped image.

HB 39 proposes to amend the law so that a “person commits defamation when he or she causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction.” Images such as the John McCain nude from mariopiperni.com might be a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

Earnest Smith (Source: State of Georgia)

Earnest Smith (Source: State of Georgia)

A Georgia blogger took offense to the assault on the First Amendment and made his own photo of Smith’s head placed over the body of a porn star. That seems to have set Smith off into a tirade that the First Amendment should be trashed.

From OnlineAthens:

The bill received no action last year, but Smith hopes this year will be different, perhaps because the picture targeting him illustrates how vulnerable all politicians are.

“It can be done to anyone at any time,” he said.

So far, he has heard no objections from free-speech advocates defending the Constitution’s First Amendment.

“No one has a right to make fun of anyone. You have a right to speak, but no one has a right to disparage another person. It’s not a First Amendment right,” he said.

Smith has heard no objections to his bill? That is impossible to believe. What does he think the photo manipulation of himself is? A bit of Googling finds several websites picking up the issue. There is even one hosting an informal contest for photoshopped images of Smith.

Altogether, there are six sponsors for this bill. It is not surprising to find one or two elected officials who can’t comprehend the First Amendment, but six? It doesn’t take a lawyer to figure out that this bill has major constitutional flaws.

Nevertheless, Smith takes this to an entirely new level by suggesting, “No one has a right to make fun of anyone.” He even says this is not a First Amendment right.

Unbelievable. It sounds like it’s time to have mandatory classes on the Constitution for elected officials.

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