Judge Upholds $49 Million Verdict Against Alex Jones, Despite Capias
A judge today overturned a large money judgment against Alex Jones, who was arrested after making bomb threats against the Westboro Baptist Church, and said she does not want to punish him over his First Amendment rights.
The judge, Susan Orenstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said at a hearing in New York that she had a duty to enforce a law that made it illegal to defame a religious organization or cause injury to its members.
It was a decision that could have far-reaching consequences. After all, the federal statute was passed in the wake of a similar judgment in Virginia against the Rev. Pat Robertson.
In a decision that could have a major impact in the future of the First Amendment, a federal judge tossed out a $49 million verdict against a Christian radio host turned political activist who made bomb threats against the Westboro Baptist Church.
The decision was one of the first times the federal courts had examined a First Amendment case involving a case against Mr. Jones, who used to routinely call the conservative group’s members “pussies.” That led to his first arrest in 1999, when he became one of more than 40 media figures to be held in criminal contempt of court after refusing to take down his show from the Internet.
This time, however, the government was seeking a much bigger punishment against Mr. Jones for the phone threats to the anti-abortion group.
Under the statute, a person who makes a threat to a religious group “by telephone or in writing, or by any other electronic means, is liable to an injunction against the mailing or mailing of notices or materials or the making of telephone calls concerning the same matter…”
But Judge Orenstein said that the statute was “so broad” that it could criminalize only speech with a message “that is itself abusive or that is an insult,” which she said the words “pussies” in particular did not amount to.
In her ruling, the judge wrote: “I cannot hold that the words used by Jones were intended as an insult, and I do not believe they were. I do not think one is required to conclude that Jones’