It makes sense for threats against public officials to be illegal, especially when those officials are charged with the often thankless task of convicting and doling out punishments to those who break the law. It is highly possible, however, to be overzealous in enforcing this rule. Such is likely the case with the allegations against two South Carolina men who are accused of threatening a judge and a prosecutor in a rap video they posted on YouTube.
Authorities brought the charges after finding an online music video of the two men, aged 28 and 25, saying that the brains of the judge and the prosecutor would be strewn on the street. The criminal defense attorney for one of the accused has made a very viable argument that authorities have violated the men's constitutionally protected freedom of expression.
While artistic expression is generally protected by the First Amendment, the First Amendment does not protect threats of violence or calls for violent action. However, agreeing with or approval of subversion or even violence is protected speech. The distinction is often a fine line, but protecting unpopular speech is important to ensuring a free exchange of ideas without fear of reprisal from those in power.
Here, the attorney said that the only reason the two rappers even used the names of this particular judge and prosecutor was because the officials were the only ones with whom the men were familiar. If, as the attorney claims, the two men meant no harm and were not actually threatening or inciting violence, then it is likely that the rappers were engaging in speech that was not only legal, but constitutionally protected.
Source: MidlandsConnect, "2 arrested after threatening officials in rap video," Jan. 17, 2012