The Onion on Monday filed a Supreme Court amicus brief backing a man arrested for a parody Facebook page, The Hill reports.
Anthony Novak was arrested for creating a Facebook page to make fun of his local Parma, Ohio police department.
Novak made just six posts and was arrested on a felony charge for allegedly violating a law banning the use of a computer to “disrupt” or “interrupt” police functions.
Novak was acquitted by a jury and sued the offices, alleging that they violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.
A federal appeals court ruled that there was probable evidence to charge Novak and that the officers were protected by qualified immunity, which protects public officials from civil lawsuits unless they “clearly established” that constitutional rights were violated.
Novak appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The Onion filed an amicus brief expressing concerns that “Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government.”
“Indeed, ‘Ohio Police Officers Arrest, Prosecute Man Who Made Fun of Them on Facebook’ might sound like a headline ripped from the front pages of The Onion—albeit one that’s considerably less amusing because its subjects are real,” the brief says.
“The Onion cannot stand idly by in the face of a ruling that threatens to disembowel a form of rhetoric that has existed for millennia, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion’s writers’ paychecks,” it continued.
The appeals court’s decision came under fire.
“Granting the officers qualified immunity does not mean their actions were justified or should be condoned,” the appeals court wrote. “Indeed, it is cases like these when government officials have particular obligation to act reasonably. Was Novak’s Facebook page worth a criminal prosecution, two appeals, and countless hours of Novak’s and the government’s time? We have our doubts.”
“[T]he Sixth Circuit’s ruling imperils an ancient form of discourse,” The Onion’s amicus brief warned. “The court’s decision suggests that parodists are in the clear only if they pop the balloon in advance by warning their audience that their parody is not true. … The Sixth Circuit’s decision in this case would condition the First Amendment’s protection for parody upon a requirement that parodists explicitly say, up-front, that their work is nothing more than an elaborate fiction.”