“Father Shall Take Down That Web Site and Shall Never on Any Public Media Make Any Reference to Mother At All,”

“nor any reference to the relationship between mother and children, nor shall he make any reference to his children other than ‘happy birthday’ or other significant school events.” That’s the text of a judge’s oral order in Morelli v. Morelli, No. A06-04-60750-C (Diane Gibbons, J., Bucks Cty., Pa. June 6, 2011). If the father says anything about the mother in public, he could be sent to jail for contempt of court. The order isn’t limited to banning libelous statements (though I think even such a much narrower ban would itself pose constitutional problems, especially under Pennsylvania law), nor is it even limited to statements about minor children (though even that sort of order strikes me as constitutionally impermissible). Rather, the court order categorically orders the removal of a Web site, and prohibits all public statements — factually accurate or not — by one person about another person.

That strikes me as a pretty clear First Amendment violation; whatever the scope of family courts’ authority to protect children’s best interests might be, it can’t extend to criminalizing one adult’s public speech about another adult. I’m pleased that the order is being appealed, and hope it will be quickly reversed. A relatively old (Jan. 5, 2010) archive of the web site that triggered this order, http://www.thepsychoexwife.com, is available on archive.org.