Internet postings with anti-Muslim hate messages may soon be subject to federal criminal laws, according to Bill Killian, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
On Tuesday, Killian and the FBI office in Knoxville, Tenn., and Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, will be holding a meeting with Muslim leaders in the area.
Killian and Kenneth Moore, the FBI special agent from the Knoxville office, will be special speakers at a special meeting entitled "Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society." They will be speaking with the Muslim community in Knoxville to inform them of their civil rights, as they pertain to hate speech and hate crimes.
Twitter feeds, however, have been rife with calls to action against the event.
The controversy is largely due to Killian's statements regarding a recent Facebook posting by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West. In that posting, West pictured a man pointing a double-barreled shotgun at the camera, with the caption reading "How to Wink at a Muslim."
Killian has stated that he plans to use federal civil rights laws to curb hate speech, if the speech is made incident to a hate crime. Now, many online pundits, including Pamela Geller, are accusing Killian and the Department of Justice of attempting to criminalize Islamophobic hate speech.
The real issue for many is that hate speech is generally protected under the First Amendment, unless the speech incites violence. Attempts to prosecute people for hateful speech on social media will almost certainly face backlash, as the First Amendment is one of the cornerstones of American law.
"The hate speech would have to pose a direct threat to an individual," said Dr. Charles Haynes, of the First Amendment Center, when asked how Killian could prosecute for hateful statements made in social media.
"It's a mystery to me," Haynes replied, when asked which statute he thought Killian would use to prosecute hate speech.