On The Front Lines
Warning Against a Government Campaign to Clamp Down on First Amendment Activity in Social Media, Rutherford Institute Asks Court to Affirm Marine’s Free Speech Rights
RICHMOND, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to reject the claims of a Chesterfield County mental health screener that he was not responsible or liable for the seizure and week-long detention in a psychiatric ward of a decorated Marine by a swarm of Secret Service and FBI agents and local police because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. In asking the Court of Appeals to reinstate the lawsuit, which was dismissed in February 2014 by a federal judge who termed its concerns over government censorship as “far-fetched,” Institute attorneys argue that Brandon Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a mental health screener’s dislike of Raub’s “unpatriotic” views on federal government misconduct, thereby violating the ex-Marine’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
“As various free speech cases working their way through the courts right now make clear, the government, a master in the art of intrusion, surveillance and criminalizing harmless activities, is continuing to clamp down on First Amendment activity on the web and in social media under the various guises of fighting terrorism, discouraging cyberbullying, and combatting violence,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “For the 1.31 billion individuals who use Facebook and the 255 million who tweet their personal and political views on Twitter, these cases will determine where the government can draw the line when it comes to expressive speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.”
On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. A Special Justice subsequently ordered that Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment.
In coming to Raub’s aid, Rutherford Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as a violation of Raub’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a lawsuit in May 2013 on behalf of Raub in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenging the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights. In February 2014, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting concerns over government suppression of dissident speech as “far-fetched.”
Attorneys Anthony Troy and Charles A. Zdebski of Eckert Seamens Cherin & Mellott, LLC, and William H. Hurd and Stephen C. Piepgrass of Troutman Sanders, LLP in Richmond are assisting The Rutherford Institute by representing Brandon Raub.