WASHINGTON—The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satirical news site, joined The Onion in calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Novak v. Parma and clearly protect the right of parody under the First Amendment. Anthony Novak was arrested and prosecuted for a felony after he made an obviously fake Facebook page mocking his local Parma Police Department. Anthony’s lawsuit for the violation of his civil rights was thrown out after the officers were granted qualified immunity.
“Parody is fundamental to free speech and the broad support for Anthony demonstrates why the Supreme Court needs to take up his case and affirm his First Amendment rights,” said IJ Senior Attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “No one should be arrested for making jokes online and no one feels that more than people who do it for a living. We thank both The Babylon Bee and The Onion for stepping up to defend free speech.”
At the same time the Babylon Bee filed their brief with the Court, it also released its own parody brief on its website claiming: “We Have Filed an Amicus Brief Arguing That Parody Is Dangerous.” The humorous brief, formatted just like a real brief, purports to support the Parma Police Department and city of Parma while the actual brief filed with the Court clearly supports Anthony Novak’s suit against the two.
As with The Onion’s brief, The Babylon Bee argues strongly against the notion that the police should receive qualified immunity from Anthony’s suit because he did not include a disclaimer on his Facebook page saying it was parody. Both sites point to numerous examples of their “fake news” being taken seriously by some individuals.
In addition to the amicus briefs from the two parody sites, the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the Rutherford Institute offered their support for the Court taking up the case.
The Cato brief asks the Court to clarify that the First Amendment protects social media. Additionally, the brief points out that Anthony’s parody was speech, not conduct. Anthony was prosecuted for “impeding police operations” even though his parody only resulted in a handful of people calling the police non-emergency line and was only online for 12 hours.
The FIRE brief points out the absurdity of qualified immunity’s requirement that plaintiffs point to another case with similar facts before their own lawsuit can move forward. This led the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to initially deny qualified immunity in the suit and then later grant it when more facts had been established in the case, but still the case went before a jury.
The Rutherford Institute brief focuses on how the 6th Circuit distorted the standard for probable cause in order to grant qualified immunity. The brief also maintains that all of the acts that prompted the arrest are clearly established protected speech.
“These amicus briefs show that people across the political spectrum agree that what happened to Anthony was wrong, and that the Supreme Court should take his case to ensure that the officers who arrested him will be held accountable for their unconstitutional actions.” said IJ Attorney Caroline Grace Brothers.