In the past couple weeks I started hearing a new term that I had to look up. I love new words. This term is “sedition” or “seditious” depending on who was using it and the context of the sentence of course. So as any other good internet user would do I googled it and read about sedition on Wikipedia (and some other sites too.) So before I do on my discussion about the absurdity and total idiocy that this new attack is let’s go with a definition of the term.
Sedition is a term of law which refers to overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition.
The difference between sedition and treason consists primarily in the subjective ultimate object of the violation to the public peace. Sedition does not consist of levying war against a government nor of adhering to its enemies, giving enemies aid, and giving enemies comfort. Nor does it consist, in most representative democracies, of peaceful protestdemocratic means (such as direct democracy or constitutional convention).
Sedition is the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power. Treason is the violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or state, giving aid to enemies, or levying war against one’s state. Sedition is encouraging one’s fellow citizens to rebel against their state, whereas treason is actually betraying one’s country by aiding and abetting another state. Sedition laws somewhat equate to terrorism and public order laws. (from my handy dandy Wikipedia reference)
So now that the term has a meaning to me, I wanted to know what sort of legal standing the term has for prosecution or actual precedent. And here is what you find there:
In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, the fourth of which, the Sedition Act or “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States” set out punishments of up to two years of imprisonment for “opposing or resisting any law of the United States” or writing or publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the President or the U.S. Congress, but specifically not the Vice-President. This Act of Congress was allowed to expire in 1801 after the election of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency. He had been the Vice-President at the time of the Act’s passage.
In the Espionage Act of 1917, Section 3 made it a crime, punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000, to willfully spread false news of the American army and navy with an intent to disrupt their operations, to foment mutiny in their ranks, or to obstruct recruiting. This Act of Congress was amended Sedition Act of 1918, which expanded the scope of the Espionage Act to any statement criticizing the Government of the United States. These Acts were upheld in 1919 in the case of Schenck v. United States, but they were largely repealed in 1921, leaving laws forbidding foreign espionage in the United States and allowing military censorship of sensitive material.
In 1940, the Alien Registration Act, or “Smith Act“, was passed, which made it a crime to advocate or to teach the desirability of overthrowing the United States Government, or to be a member of any organization which does the same. It was often used against Communist Party organizations. This Act was invoked in three major cases, one of which against the Socialist Worker’s Party in Minneapolis in 1941, resulting in 23 convictions, and again in what became known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944 in which a number of pro-Nazi figures were indicted but released when the prosecution ended in a mistrial. Also, a series of trials of 140 leaders of the Communist Party USA also relied upon the terms of the “Smith Act” – beginning in 1949 – and lasting until 1957. Although the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the convictions of 11 CPUSA leaders in 1951 in Dennis v. United States , that same Court reversed itself in 1957 in the case of Yates v. United States, by ruling that teaching an ideal, no matter how harmful it may seem, does not equal advocating or planning its implementation. Although unused since at least 1961, the “Smith Act” remains a Federal law.
Laura Berg, a nurse at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in New Mexico was investigated for sedition in September 2005 after writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, accusing several national leaders of criminal negligence. Though their action was later deemed unwarranted by the director of Veteran Affairs, local human resources personnel took it upon themselves to request an FBI investigation. Ms. Berg was represented by the ACLU. Charges were dropped in 2006.
Now where this gets interesting is that Cheney, Palin, Beck, and the Tea Party movement have all been labeled as bordering on seditious, if not already being called seditious. The fact that the question the current direction our administration is heading and dare to disagree with it is considered a horrid offense. During Bush’s time in office let’s think about all the people who should have been brought up on Sedition charges then. Why was sedition not mentioned when the shoe was on the other foot?
This ranks right up there with you automatically being labeled racist if you don’t like Obama. Since when is it not okay just to not like the policies of the administration. The last eight years it would seem that the Democrats had ample time and loud voices to demonstrate their displeasure. Did that make them racist? It is time to stop the bias in these types of settings. It is not okay for it to be all right for the left to oppose the Conservative agenda but not vice versa. The rules apply to all even if you don’t like the message. I would also like to point out to the person who wrote this fine commentary, even if by some miraculous re-writing of law and whatnot your totally out of field comments calling for the arrest, incarceration, and execution for treason, sedition and conflict of interest of Cheney and other people you deem as seditious individuals, did you happen to notice that even if they were ever actually charged and found guilty your desired punishment for them is by no means, in no way, a punishment that was ever an accepted form of punishment for sedition? The obvious disdain and dislike that commentaries like this one have for other Americans and their right to have an opinion is just flat-out wrong. You are free to not like Cheney. Just like I am free to not like Obama, and to be clear I don’t like his policies. Since I don’t actually know him I can’t say I don’t like him. I can’t say that I would like him if I did meet him. And if you want to talk treason . . . maybe another time.
And for a final thought on sedition, just in case you want people tried on this – check out the Montana Sedition Project site. It is amazing what happened to the people who were tried and convicted there. But it is also here that you find precedent and court decisions regarding the law and acts labeled seditions. Since we know that in court prior decisions and findings create precedent for future cases check this out:
In 1969, in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the high court set forth the current standard for punishing seditious speech. A person cannot be criminally punished for urging the use of force or for urging that laws be broken “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite…such actions.” In other words, mere words, unless intended to immediately provoke lawless action, and likely to do so, cannot be punished by the state. Had such a standard been in effect in 1918, no sedition law would have been enacted. (from the Montana Sedition Project)
Before you write and inform me that this was a case involving the KKK which I do not agree with, I am merely pointing out this ruling because it provides the basis for the current way cases of sedition are handled.
And just in case you were wondering none of the people or groups being labeled as seditious are inciting violence. In fact the Tea Party movement has been found to be peaceful, what you might say? They are NOT violent. They are just normal every day people who disagree. The fact that you would associate peaceful opposition as terrorist groups is immature, inflammatory, and an outright untruth.