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Liberals, Tea Party: Ohio's Internet harassment law unconstitutional

A law meant to prevent online harassment and stalking may be struck down as overly broad, if a bipartisan group of political commentators has its way. The law was passed last year in response to a family's complaint that a neighbor had set up a website intentionally meant to harass, stalk and threaten them. They were told by police that nothing could be done.

The law, which went into effect last August, reads as follows:

"No person shall knowingly post a text or audio statement or an image on an internet web site or web page for the purpose of abusing, threatening or harassing another person."

Unfortunately, according to the lawsuit, that wording is far too broad. It could easily be read to prohibit pithy political criticism. They have asked a federal judge to block the law immediately until the question of its constitutionality can be resolved.

Liberal blog Plunderbund, the Portage County Tea Party defend their invective

Liberal bloggers from Plunderbund and members of the Portage County, Ohio, Tea Party filed the suit with the help of a Cleveland attorney and famed First Amendment specialist Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA.

They ask the court to recognize that "invective, ridicule and strong language intended to mock, lampoon or call into question the actions, motives and public policy positions of various figures" is political speech and cannot be prohibited. Volokh summed up their proposition, saying the law "criminalizes speech about an unwilling subject."

"In sum, the Plaintiffs engage in core political expression of a sort squarely within the heartland of what the First Amendment protects, and yet legitimately fear prosecution under the statute based upon the provocative and critical nature of what they publish," reads their petition for a preliminary injunction while the case is tried.

The groups are not trying to challenge the part of the law prohibiting online threats, which they do consider legitimate.

The case is being tried in federal court in Akron.

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