Under Ohio law, Ohio Revised Code § 2917.11 regulates “hate speech” or “fighting words.” This statute expressly prescribes “offensively coarse utterance [and] gesture[,]” and “insulting [or] taunting [conduct] … likely to provoke a violent response.” § 2917.11(A)(2), (3). This law lies within criminal provisions of the Ohio Revised Code denominated “Disorderly Conduct,” as one of many “Offenses Against the Public Peace” of Chapter 2917. Has any duly elected Ohio County Prosecutor recently invoked this provision?
How does the community resident evaluate whether the absence of arrest and prosecution in his or her Ohio County is a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion in regulating conduct under Ohio law? In what other ways are the constitutionally protected, basic and fundamental rights of Ohio citizens and residents to privacy and personhood, as incumbent within our essential rights of liberty and freedom, protected from independent, idiosyncratic, and isolated acts of speech contrary to personal integrity?
Ohio Revised Code § 2917.11 should be used by Ohio County Prosecutors to guide popular conduct, as a didactic tool. Section 2917.11 deters visceral, unkind speech directed, especially, to a person the potential perpetrator does not even know. And, importantly, this law looks to proscribe harmful words spoken when no logical rationale exists for devolving into such conduct when long historically permitted forms of expression and advocacy exist.
If traditional forms of expression, speech and participatory politics are possible, conduct subject to prosecution under Ohio Revised Code § 2917.17 only evokes either fear harmful to one’s sense of personhood or, more difficultly, fear expressed in the form of a harmful or violent response from the victim of the unkind speech. Do we instead prosecute the victim for engaging in an improper response to unprovoked hate speech and let the utterer of fighting words go free? Why is the fearful, dependent spouse convicted of homicide for shooting a long abusive, domineering spouse while asleep and unlikely to rise up in confrontation? When is self-defense illegal?
Is an Ohio County Prosecutor’s failure to prosecute hate speech and fighting words an unconstitutional disregard for the right of every individual to liberty, privacy and personal integrity, all long respected by the U.S. Supreme Court? Should the Ohio County Prosecutor, as a state actor, be subject to civil action, under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code, for such a failure to prosecute? The right to Due Process includes one’s liberty interests, and the duty of the Ohio County Prosecutor to protect the liberty interests of Ohio citizens and residents subject to personally intrusive fighting words and hate speech by prosecuting those engaging in hateful speech. Does Section 1983 include a substantive due process right to challenge in Federal Court an Ohio County Prosecutor for the absence of prosecution of fighting words perpetrators under Ohio law?
The consequences arising from an Ohio County Prosecutor’s decision to not prosecute acts criminal under Ohio Revised Code § 2917.11 are self-defining and derive inherently from the Anglo-American Common Law giving rise to the U.S. Constitution. A want of review, regulation and criminalization results in a perpetuation and acculturation of illegal intent and conduct within our country. American criminal law has many purposes, including, deterrence, rehabilitation, restitution and retribution. Laws exist on the “statute books” for a reason. These are the reasons for Ohio Revised Code § 2917.11 .
How do we begin? How does the first individual abused as to self and personhood come forward in Federal Court and ask why his or her Ohio County Prosecutor did not seek redress on his or her behalf under expressly worded Ohio Law? Should such prosecution on the individual’s behalf be so permissive, and not a mandatory obligation of the duly ethical Ohio County Prosecutor under the professional rules and judicial decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court?
Life in our American Republic requires free speech and a sense of participation without fear and without improper inhibition. Justice and fairness in our democracy require that Ohio County Prosecutors act zealously, with best efforts and with a sense of being conservative to the utmost. Non action and a failure to prosecute potential perpetrators under enacted legislation is not conservative, it is the opposite. Prosecutorial discretion is both permissive and mandatory. Where do our State and Federal Courts draw the line?
In a democracy, free speech is a property right. It is not to only be accorded governmental protection as a permissive privilege. In America, a citizen or resident should not feel as if he or she must ask permission of an equal to speak or live, for fear of becoming a victim of hostile words. He or she should freely speak. If the equal is inhibiting in a manner contrary to § 2917.11, the Ohio County Prosecutor should act.
Lori Gayle Nuckolls