A Pennsylvania judge has created a First Amendment uproar by ordering a father to take down his “Psycho Ex-Wife” blog in which he railed against and blasted his former spouse, and sometimes speaks unflatteringly about his children.
Appearing on the Today show, Anthony Morelli said that although he took down the blog as ordered, he is appealing the order on the grounds that it violates his First Amendment rights. Judge Diane Gibbons ordered the blog to be taken down, citing the emotional damage it was capable of inflicting on the parties’ children. Morelli claims that the blog is therapeutic in nature, and that the children can be protected by the content provided that the parents exercise control of the children’s computer viewing habits. The question facing the appellate court is whether Morelli’s right to free speech outweighs the potential harmful effect of his inflammatory comments on the children.
I happen to be a big defender of First Amendment rights, and of free speech in particular. For the most part, provided that the speech does not incite violence, I will almost always stand up for the rights of individuals to say and express what is on their minds. And although I am torn by a case like this, I still ultimately come down on Morelli’s right to say and express his feelings, regardless of how distasteful they may be. However, I clearly am not the appellate court in this matter.
At the same time, and although I would defend Morelli’s free speech rights, I would also advocate that the family court judge who adjudicates custody in the case should consider Morelli’s actions in determining what is in the best interests of his children. Although it may be legal (or should be) for him to post the comments, I believe the family court would be well-within its discretion to determine he is not exercising sound judgment and make the corresponding custodial orders.
I’m not aware of a case in California (yet) involving any such court order. In fact, in my experience, family court judges frequently refuse to grant restrictions on speech in divorce cases. At the same time, we frequently see orders whereby the parties are compelled not to make disparaging remarks about the other parent within the children’s earshot, or prohibitions on discussing the adult litigation matters with the children other than in a cursory, age-appropriate manner (and without the gory details). Whether such an order would eventually include the censorship of an inflammatory blog has yet to be determined.