Blog post praising school killers leads to arrest of teacher

Legal experts say the post may be protected under the First Amendment as free speech

A Wisconsin high school teacher was arrested last week after a blog post that included support for student killers like those involved in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

James Buss was arrested November 29 and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communications systems, according to a spokeswoman from the West Bend, Wis., police department. Buss, a teacher from a high school in Milwaukee, admitted to making an anonymous blog post on the political blog Boots and Sabers on November 16, the spokeswoman said.

In the post, Buss said teacher salaries in West Bend "made me sick; US$60,000 for a part-time job where you 'work' maybe five hours per day and sit in the teachers' lounge and smoke the rest of the time. But whining here doesn't stop the problem. We've got to get in back of the kids who have had enough of lazy, no-good teachers and are fighting back. Kids like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time! Too bad the liberals rip them; they were heroes and should be remembered that way."

Though the post was anonymous, the operators of the political blog provided Buss' name to police. A spokeswoman from the Washington County District Attorney's office said Wednesday that the office would decide before the end of this week whether it would pursue the charges.

However, legal experts said that the post likely is protected under the First Amendment as free speech.

Daniel Solove, an associate professor of law at The George Washington University law school, said that the arrest was "absolutely uncalled for," noting that although the posting might have been crude and offensive, free speech is protected under the law.

"The arrest is outrageous, and this is just basic free speech," noted Solove, who also is author of the recently published book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet. "It does not seem to imply to a reasonable reader any kind of threat. Just merely being offended by something or saying something that other people don't like is not sufficient reason for criminalizing it."

Christina Wells, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, agreed, noting that most punishable threats are made face to face because they cause someone to fear for their safety.

"The problem is when you have this weird situation where someone has made a comment in a very public way, it is a diffuse situation," she said. "You don't know whether the action that is going to happen is going to come from the threatener or whether he is going to spur someone else to act. It is not clear this person had any intent to cause harm other than making a political statement."

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld
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