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When Is It Illegal To Be Mean?

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - When does someone have the right to say something mean, and when have they violated laws against bullying?

A Wisconsin anchorwoman who received an email in which a viewer called her fat chose not to hit the delete button, but instead took to the airwaves to defend those who feel harmed by bullies. To no one who has ever seen a Disney movie’s surprise, the brave anchorwoman became an overnight sensation. And the meanie who wrote the email was revealed to be the villain he is – which is to say, he turns out to be a lawyer. Another proud member of the profession.

While we can all agree that the person who sent that email is a mean-spirited jerk, when is mean speech illegal?

While school districts across the nation are required to have policies to protect KIDS who are bullied so bullying behavior should be reported, under the law, mean-spirited speech toward adults is illegal only when it crosses the line into stalking or harassment, where it puts a person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.

It’s not illegal just because it hurts someone’s feelings.

That said, as any Disney viewer will tell you, animals can talk. Also, it’s the nice kids who always win in the end.