MARK KIESLING: Jokes are supposed to be funny, not threats

2012-04-29T00:00:00Z MARK KIESLING: Jokes are supposed to be funny, not threats nwitimes.com
April 29, 2012 12:00 am

I am first in line to defend the freedom of speech because my job depends on it.

That said, I cannot write anything I like. As the late gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson once said, "Once you could call a person a no good pig (expletive). Today you have to produce the pig."

You and I are not free, or so the U.S. Supreme Court said, to shout "fire!" in a crowded theater. That may have been the high court's last wise decision, and that was in 1919 in Schenck v. United States.

But as much as I defend the right to free speech, I cannot agree with the position the American Civil Liberties Union has taken with regard to three Griffith girls expelled from the town's middle school for making jokes about killing classmates.

Once upon a time, you might have been able to get away with yelling "I'm gonna kill you" across a playground.

In the wake of school shootings that have become regular news fodder over the past dozen years or so, it has become unacceptable.

"This was just 13- and 14-year-olds being 13- and 14-year-olds," said ACLU lawyer Gavin Rose, who is defending the girls.

"No reasonable person looking at the conversation would think these kids were bent on inflicting any actual harm."

Yeah, uh-huh. Try telling that to the survivors of April 20, 1999, (Hitler's birthday, perhaps not coincidentally) when two students went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 13 and wounding 21 before they took their own lives.

There are photos of the two killers taken a month before the massacre with a sawed-off shotgun. Not that this, in and of itself, is indicative of a murderous personality.

USA Today has listed 19 "major" school shootings since 1983.

So when some teen girls say things like "I would say let's kill all the ugly people at school then. But I don't wanna die," and another responds later "I wanna kill people," authorities have to act and act swiftly.

We no longer live in the 1960s, when disputes were solved by a good butt-whipping or some hallway hair pulling.

"Any child should feel safe going to school," said Regina Webb, whose daughter was one of those named in the Facebook threats.

Why doesn't the ACLU step in and defend the right of kids to go to school without bullying? Without death threats?

Rose, the ACLU lawyer defending the bullies, said the girls were "engaging in a jesting conversation on their own time."

Sure. John Wayne Gacy murdered 33 boys on his own time and buried them in his basement.

Freedom of speech is precious. It is a cornerstone of what this nation stands for.

But freedom does not mean license. With that freedom comes responsibility for your own words.

Maybe Rose thinks it's "jesting," but I don't find it to be very funny.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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