As reported by the New Jersey Monitor, an Appellate Court in New Jersey overturned a ruling finding against a separated woman who “used” social media to pressure her Orthodox Jewish husband to grant her a “get,” a religious or ritual divorce document used in the Orthodox Jewish community that finalizes a divorce. The woman claimed that her ex-husband had refused to give her a “get,” thus making her an “agunah,” a term used to describe a woman in the community who may be civilly divorced but nevertheless unable to get a divorce or remarry in the Orthodox Jewish community and religion. The woman's video pressured members of her community to convince her ex-husband to grant the “get,” and according to the ex-husband, it was unnecessary and exposed him to threats due to members of the community now viewing him as an abusive husband.
Although the lower trial court found that the video was a form of incitement and an invasion of privacy that violated New Jersey privacy laws, the appellate court disagreed. Instead, the appellate court found that the woman's speech failed to fall in the narrow category of “incitement” speech that the First Amendment does not protect. Even going further, the Appellate Court found that “The right to free speech also includes the right to exhort others to take action upon that speech.”
When Free Speech and Domestic Violence Collide
Although the ruling dealt with a matter very personal to the Orthodox Jewish community, it sheds light on the rights that victims of domestic violence have while speaking out against their aggressors, regardless of whether that speech is in person or online. In many instances, it may be easier for victims, who often find themselves in isolated situations among friends and families, to use social media as a means to access and connect with resources and help. With this said, it's important to note that while First Amendment rights apply, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., can enforce policies prohibiting speech that qualifies as online harassment or stalking.
What Qualifies as Incitement Under the First Amendment?
As is the answer to almost any constitutional law question, the answer is “it depends.” While most speech is protected under the First Amendment, speech that qualifies as “incitement” is not covered. Speech is often deemed incitement if it incites others to act violently against another person or group in an immediate and specific way. For example, if the woman had incited members of her community to find and beat her ex-husband at a particular time, her speech would likely have been upheld as incitement. However, because she was simply sharing her story and did not call for violence, her speech was protected.
Restraining Order Help in New Jersey
If you are a victim of domestic violence and feel as though your voice is not being heard, contact the Lento Law Firm's Family Law Team today for compassionate and effective assistance. Whether you are seeking a restraining order or a divorce, we are here. We can help you carve a path forward, find your voice, and share your side of the story, all while feeling protected under the law. Contact us for a confidential consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or by utilizing our online contact form.