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New York court rules against cyber-bullying law

Cite violation of First Amendment rights in controversial verdict.

By The American Bazaar Staff

NEW YORK: The New York Court of Appeals has officially ruled against a controversial new law that would have made all forms of cyber-bullying illegal.

The justices on the Court passed the ruling on Tuesday by a margin of 5-2, effectively nullifying the bill passed by the Albany County Court in 2010. According to the new verdict, outlawing cyber-bullying – which would include just about all forms of harmful or hateful statements in the online realm – would be a drastic violation of the First Amendment, which protects free speech.

“Based on the text of the statute at issue, it is evident that Albany County ‘create[d] a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth,’ read the verdict, released by the court. “The language of the local law embraces a wide array of applications that prohibit types of protected speech far beyond the cyber-bullying of children.”

The case stems from the arrest and subsequent conviction of Marquan W. Mackey-Meggs, who posted derogatory photos of his high schools peers in 2010. Mackey-Meggs, who was 15 when he was charged under the cyber-bullying law, plead guilty but contested how Constitution the law was, causing it to go to the state’s Court of Appeals.

His lawsuit has been validated now, with the justices agreeing that although such behavior is unwarranted and unkind, it cannot be curtailed by the US judicial system. The justices who supported upholding the law would have made certain changes, such as changing some of the literature to make it a little less restrictive, but they were ultimately outvoted by more than twice their number.

“It is possible to sever the portion of the cyber-bullying law that applies to adults and other entities because this would require a simple deletion of the phrase ‘or person’ from the definition of the offense. But doing so would not cure all of the law’s constitutional ills,” said the majority opinion.

Those supporting the bill, however, say that such talk is not protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause, and can be considered defamatory. Other states have version of their own cyber-bullying laws in place, particularly New Jersey, which allows prosecution for online bullying.

This ruling could set a very important precedent throughout the country, and is a big blow to the growing anti-bullying movement that is taking over the nation. Specifically within the Indian American community, Sikh and Muslim children have become the targets of increased bullying over the last 10 years. In fact, a recent study showed that two out of every three Sikh children in the US has experience bullying in some form, at some point in their lives.

Although the court admitted that technology has “exacerbated” the problem of bullying, measures must be taken that do not impinge on free speech. And that, it seems, is easier said than done.