Glenn Beck To Face Defamation Lawsuit Involving Boston Marathon Bombing

beck-too-crazyFar too often, people get confused when citing the 1st Amendment and believe that like their understanding of the 2nd Amendment, their rights are unlimited. Take for example the folks behind Open Carry Texas and other organizations who initially were carrying weapons into places like Starbucks that were not accepting of guns inside of their businesses.

When told to leave their weapons at home or in their vehicles, some these gun fanatics pitched a fit and claimed they should be able to take a gun wherever they wanted, because of the 2nd Amendment.

The same thing goes with the 1st Amendment which many people believe gives them the right to say whatever they want, as well as give them total immunity from the consequences of their speech. When confronted by others who are offended by racist, sexist or otherwise troubling remarks, the claim of free speech is brought out in an attempt to justify or protect the speaker from potential repercussions. As demonstrated in the recently viral Tumblr posts “Racist Getting Fired“, many people making racist comments in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision found out the hard way that their understanding of the 1st Amendment was totally flawed.

So what does the 1st Amendment actually say? Here’s the text of it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Notice that it says that “Congress shall make no law” and doesn’t say anything about private employers requiring people who work for them to follow certain standards to avoid reflecting badly on the company both in public or online, including social media. Many businesses, including the one I work for, have social media policies that outline what is and is not acceptable behavior both on and off the clock.

This is the predicament that Glenn Beck now finds himself in with the lawsuit Alharbi v. Beck et al, filed with the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, case No. 14-11550. The background of the case is that Glenn Beck repeatedly named Abdulrahman Alharbi as being responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, a claim that he repeated over and over again on his program, despite the fact that Mr. Alharbi was cleared of any wrongdoing and authorities ended the probe. While Glenn Beck’s assertions that Abdulrahman Alharbi was indeed involved may have been free speech and the government couldn’t press criminal charges, U.S. District Judge Patti Saris ruled that Glenn Beck, his company The Blaze as well as a distributor of his radio show were not immune from a civil defamation lawsuit.

Alharbi, of Revere, Massachusetts, said the statements damaged his reputation and subjected him to messages calling him a murderer, child killer and terrorist.

Saris rejected defense arguments that the lawsuit be dismissed because Alharbi was a “limited purpose” or “involuntary” public figure who failed to show that Beck acted with “actual malice,” meaning he lied or recklessly disregarded the truth. (Source)

While I’m not a lawyer, here’s the basic reasoning behind the rejection Beck’s request to have the lawsuit thrown out. His attorneys claimed that Glenn Beck’s repeated allegations that Mr. Alharbi funded or otherwise assisted Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the April 2013 were immune from the defamation lawsuit since Mr. Alharbi was considered an “involuntary” public figure at the time. However, even after Abdulrahman Alharbi had been cleared of any involvement, therefore removing him from being a public figure, Glenn Beck knowingly and willingly continued to assert that he was responsible for the bombings. At this point, the behavior changed from criticism or allegations against a public figure to harassment and defamation of a private citizen. Mr. Beck also had a radio show which he used to broadcast these defamatory remarks which then made his company and the distributor of his show liable as well.

Glenn Beck and his listeners can claim free speech all they want, but at the end of the day, they’re about to get a hard lesson as to how the 1st Amendment actually works.


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