The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech to every American.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held there are very limited circumstances in which those rights can be restricted. The most significant among those restrictions includes speech that can incite violence and other crime.
So it's unusual to see the top FBI agent and federal prosecutor in Eastern Tennessee leading a special meeting June 4 in response to an offensive Internet posting.
According to a report Tuesday by the Tullahoma News, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Kenneth Moore "will provide input on how civil rights can be violated by those who post inflammatory documents targeted at Muslims on social media." It was prompted by a Facebook posting made by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West that showed a picture of a man pointing a double-barreled shotgun at a camera lens with the caption saying, "How to Wink at a Muslim."
Call it inappropriate. Call it offensive. But don't call it a federal case unless, it was an actual threat that West intended to act upon, or, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, it seeks to direct or incite imminent lawless action. Otherwise, such offense should be met with a rebuttal of better ideas and words, if met at all.
Otherwise, the scorning reaction from two senior government officials in the Eastern District of Tennessee can have a chilling effect on free speech – a chill imposed by the very people sworn to protect those Constitutional rights.