Wednesday, January 08, 2020

State Senator's Threats Were Not Religious Speech

In Boquist v. Oregon State Senate President Peter Courtney, (D OR, Jan. 7, 2020), an Oregon federal district court rejected claims by Oregon state senator Brian Boquist that his constitutional rights, including his 1st Amendment rights, were violated when state Senate leaders imposed a requirement that he give 12-hours notice before entering the Capitol building. The notice requirement was imposed in reaction to statements made by Boquist that others saw as threatening.  All of this occurred during a political battle in which Republican senators left the Capitol in order to prevent a quorum from being present in the Senate, and the governor ordered state police to arrest them and bring them back. Rejecting Boquist's 1st Amendment claims, the court said in part:
While both sides can point fingers and complain that the other is overreacting to a political situation, Plaintiff’s chosen words on the Senate floor were those of a bully on the playground. As such, they are unprotected fighting words. See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 572 (1942).... Remarkably, Plaintiff argues that his statement to Defendant Courtney— “if you send the [S]tate [P]olice to get me, Hell’s coming to visit you personally”—was a statement of religious expression.... But here, Plaintiff seems to overlook the fact that he sounds more like a character out of a Clint Eastwood movie than he does Mother Theresa.... Plaintiff made this statement in anticipation of his potential arrest, not during a religious discussion. Plaintiff also said that if the State Police were to arrest him, they should “send bachelors and come heavily armed.”... These statements, apart and together, resonate more as threats than the expression of theological ideas.
The Oregonian reports on the decision.