September 17, 2021 18:34

Racist Slur Called ‘Protected Speech’ in Virginia’s Fourth Circuit  

A retired Air Force officer’s use of a racial slur was ruled by the Fourth Circuit court as protected speech, reports Courthouse News. The Court found that even though the slur was racist it could not be considered within the “fighting words” exception to free speech protection. The case arose out of a heated exchange in 2018 between Lt. Col. Jules Bartow (ret.) and Cathy Johnson-Felder, a Black sales associate at the Marine Corps Exchange store in Quantico, Virginia. When Johnson-Felder asked Bartow “Can I help you, sir?” he replied: “If I had a vagina, would you still call me sir?” A Black customer stepped in to explain Johnson-Felder’s use of “sir,” which was expected when purchasing merchandise on a military installation. Bartow responded with “If I called her a “N—”, would she still say good morning?” Bartow was removed by security and arrested. A magistrate judge concluded he had directed the slur toward the Black man in civilian clothing and fined Bartow $500. In the appeal, U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, wrote in a 14-page opinion that “The ugly racial epithet used by Bartow undoubtedly constituted extremely ‘abusive language,’” but said the the First Amendment allows criminalization of abusive language, only if the government proves that the language had a “direct tendency to cause immediate acts of violence.”  Motz noted the government failed to prove or offer evidence “that Bartow’s use of this highly offensive slur tended to cause immediate acts of violence by anyone.”

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