Man Ordered Arrested for Website Content

Stephen Lee Johnson was looking to help reform the state's Division of Family and Children Services, not stand up for First Amendment rights. But sometimes you aim for one thing and hit another.

Johnson, who lives in Pike County, about 50 miles south of Atlanta, has grandchildren in state care and is currently trying to win their custody. He also maintains a website, www.angelfire.com/ga4/justice, in which he routinely excoriates DFACS. For instance, he criticizes a Pike County child advocate for allegedly driving his wife and three children from Punta Gorda, Fla., to Zebulon, Ga., in the wake of Hurricane Charley in August 2004. Johnson's website asks, "If Pike County Georgia's 'Child Advocate' recklessly endangers his own children, how could he care about any kids?"

Not surprisingly, DFACS officials in Pike County don't care for Johnson's website and have demanded he take down the posts that are critical of them. A Pike County judge agreed. Last September, Magistrate Judge Priscilla Killingsworth issued an order of arrest for Johnson, saying that he was a threat to the safety of others, based on the contention that his website made "false and malicious comments."

Johnson has yet to be arrested, but he's not taking any chances. Although he's not talking to the press, he's being represented by the Georgia chapter of the ACLU, which says the arrest order against Johnson constitutes prior restraint - that is, the government is prohibiting without just cause Johnson's right to publish what he wants.

Last week, Johnson filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia. He has also requested a preliminary injunction that would prevent enforcement of the arrest order.

"There has never been a proceeding that established his writings as libelous or slanderous," says Gerald Weber, legal director of the Georgia ACLU. "This order of arrest has discouraged his free speech without cause."??

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