In a country where the First Amendment supposedly protects freedom of speech from government censorship, can simply posting entertainment-based song lyrics by a well-established music group on your Facebook page be a crime and get you locked up behind bars? Sadly, the answer is yes - and not just when it comes to posting violent-themed rap lyrics, but also those of metal bands.
James Evans of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, was arrested and tossed in jail late last month for allegedly making terroristic threats and supposedly threatening to kill students at a school when he posted lyrics by the metal band Exodus on his Facebook page, according to a Sept. 2 report by WFIE 14 News in Evansville, Indiana.
The lyrics in question, which are from a song called "Class Dismissed", are:
Student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood splattered treatise of hate. Class dismissed is my hypothesis, gun fire ends in debate.
For posting that, the 31-year-old Evans spent eight days in the slammer, before finally being released on Sept. 3, according to another WFIE report.
In a Sept. 4 press release, Exodus states that it "does not promote or condone terrorists, threats or bullying. That being said, the band is somewhat baffled by the fact that this man [is] being charged for what seems against his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech."
"The idea that an individual in this great country of ours could be arrested for simply posting lyrics to a song is something I never believed could happen in a free society," added Gary Holt, the band's guitarist, in the press release.
The song in question, Holt explains, "was written as a view through the eyes of a madman and in no way endorses that kind of fucked up behavior. It was the Virginia Tech massacre perpetrated by Seung-Hui Cho that was the subject and inspiration to write the song."
Call it another case of a zero-tolerance policy for making any reference to school-place violence making zero commonsense. And call it yet another uninformed, heavy-handed response from government officials who apparently didn't bother to do their musical homework before making the arrest.
As Evans told WFIE 14 News reporter Jess Raatz upon his release from jail:
It's nonsense. I feel like my civil rights have been violated. You throw First Amendment freedom of speech out the window. Even all the guys I was in the cell with they thought it was nonsense themselves. I had several officials tell me it was nonsense that there was no reason why I should have even been here.
Unless there is something more behind Evans's actions that we don't yet know about, then he clearly is correct.
The United States Supreme Court emphasized in a 1989 decision called Ward vs. Rock Against Racism that "music, as a form of expression and communication, is protected under the First Amendment." The nation's high court added that:
Music is one of the oldest forms of human expression. From Plato's discourse in the Republic to the totalitarian state in our own times, rulers have known its capacity to appeal to the intellect and to the emotions, and have censored musical compositions to serve the needs of the state.
The FBI once even opened up a file on the barely intelligible frat-anthem Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen to determine if it was obscene. They determined it wasn't.
The arrest of James Evans for posting the lyrics of a metal band comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving alleged threats of violence conveyed in another often criticized musical genre, namely rap. The Court will hear oral argument in that case, Elonis v. United States, in December.
Ultimately, no matter what variety it is, music finds itself caught squarely these days in the crosshairs of law enforcement officials, with the First Amendment ready to be sacrificed.