In an iconic 1919 Supreme Court ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr made clear that an individual’s right to free speech, like all rights, is limited when it directly and materially harms other individuals or the public good.

His well-known analogy was the obvious inappropriateness of allowing someone to generate panic in a crowded theater by falsely shouting “fire”. The law is clear. Your right to exercise free speech ends when you willfully abuse it to falsely and maliciously attack and harm me.

Thus, the recent blatant bullying at Coronado School Board meetings is not protected “free speech.” Thuggish threats to School Board members are not protected free speech. Vandalism and racial attacks are not protected free speech.

Our Founding Fathers placed the highest value on free speech as an essential protection of democracy against the risk of authoritarian take-over. In contrast, the current perversion of free speech in the service of mob intimidation presages the demise of our democracy.

People in our community may disagree on political questions, but we can and must join together in condemning the small group of extremists willing to resort to cruelty, bullying, and thuggishness.

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