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Always err on the side of protecting the First Amendment right to free expression

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Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights (from the public domain)

Praised be Maryland federal trial judge Roger Titus for recently dismissing a prosecution for engaging in a “course of conduct that caused substantial emotional distress” to the alleged victim, through posting messages on Twitter and other websites. Not yet having read the pleadings in this case beyond the indictment, at the very least I reiterate the necessity always to err on the side of protecting the First Amendment, which defense has been a part of my law practice for many years.

Last Friday’s Legal Times article on this story says: “According to Titus’ opinion, the trouble began when Cassidy was introduced in 2007 to the regional leader of a sect of Buddhism based in Poolesville, Md. The leader, known in court papers as A.Z., is an ‘enthroned tulku,’ according to Titus’ opinion, meaning she is a leader by lineage within her community.”

Poolesville, Maryland, is a low-populated town around fifteen miles from my home. I can think of only one possible enthroned Buddhist female tulku regional leader in Poolesville, and that is Alyce Zeoli (thus leading to the indictment’s reference of A.Z., I suppose). Ms. Zeoli “was given the name ‘Ahkon Norbu Lhamo,’ and the title ‘Jetsunma,’ an honorific associated with Tara, the female Buddha,” according to the website of the Kunzang Palyul Choling Maryland Buddhist temple.

As a disclaimer, I love going to Jetsunma’s Kunzang Palyul Choling temple, not because of the fanfare around Jetsunma, but because the temple is on multiple beautiful peaceful acres, including walking paths in the woods that arrive at several stupas. They have a great bookstore and gift shop, and the entire place is very peaceful and serene.

Had I known Jetsunma (I have never seen her) and had she told me about the alleged activity of now-dismissed defendant William Lawrence Cassidy (nobody did), I would have had an opportunity to empathize with her plight in this matter, and also to have urged her to urge the authorities to protect the First Amendment as to her complaints. I cannot fault Jetsunma for having called the police. I have no way of knowing at this point whether she pushed for a prosecution.

Yes, there are many very scary people out there whose non-violent words and deeds can point to violence to come. However, for the First Amendment to have sufficient teeth, we must always err on the side of protecting the First Amendment. That is an essential price of the Bill of Rights.