How many people would be in jail if annoying or offending a person were against the law? The answer: pretty much everyone. If you think that you might be one of these people and you like to send information electronically, there are a few places you should probably avoid.

Vernon County, Wisconsin, is among a growing number of jurisdictions that are implementing so-called cyber-bullying laws. A Vernon County ordinance makes it a crime to “send information to another person by electronic means with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person.” There is an exception if the information serves a “legitimate purpose.”

The statute is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, offensive speech is protected as long as it is not incitement to immediate unlawful conduct, obscene, child pornography, a threat, or fighting words. Here, the ordinance goes far beyond those unprotected categories of speech and targets speech that is simply annoying.

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