Free Speech on the Web Centers Around Anti-Abortion Web Site
Posted January 10, 1999
RALEIGH — Free speech on the Web is the hot issue being debated in a Portland, Ore. courtroom.
The trial centers around an anti-abortion Web site that some say promoted violence against doctors, clinics and women receiving abortions.
The Web site that is "on trial" first came to light months ago when New York's Dr. Barnett Slepian was assassinated and his name crossed off the list of the "Nuremberg Files."
Attorneys for the Web site say the case is about words, contending the Constitution protects provocative statements and pictures like those found on the site.
"The Nuremberg Files" likens doctors and those who help them provide abortions to Nazi war criminals. The site created by Neal Horsley is protected by the court he disdains.
"When people start killing people, there is a law that takes over that transcends the law established by the Supreme Court of the United States of America, and that law is called the law of God," said Horsley.
Names, and in many cases, addresses, phone numbers and even social security numbers, are posted.
Lawyers for doctors and clinics say the site intimidates doctors and puts them in fear of their lives.
Amanda Martin specializes in First Amendment rights in her law practice. She says the jury must decide whether the site constitutes real threats.
"The line has to be drawn between what's simply speaking and what crosses the line," said Martin.
A court ruling against "The Nuremberg Files" might not keep it off the Web.
"There is little to prevent them from going somewhere else and putting the Web site up," said Martin.
The Internet is the ultimate marketplace of ideas, and its global nature makes it difficult to control those ideas.
"The antidote to bad speech is better speech, and if you don't agree with it, you're free to put your two cents in," explained Martin.
The suit claims the Web site violates the 1994 Federal Clinic Protection Law.
Abortion providers hope to close down the site and win up to $200 million in damages.