Lester Gerard Packingham simply wanted to express his joy and thanks online back in 2010 for his dismissal of a traffic ticket. Most certainly, he never expected his Facebook post to end up as the focal point of a case to be initially considered by the U.S. Supreme Court next week.
Here's why it did.
Packingham is a convicted sex offender in North Carolina. The state has a law forbidding registered offenders to visit any online networking sites that children might visit.
State officials flatly state that, because Packingham did that, he committed a felony and must be punished. Packingham argues -- and is supported in his contention by myriad commentators on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberty advocates -- that he did absolutely nothing wrong. The bottom line, he notes, is that authorities are going after him for nothing more than the praise he expressed to God for his positive traffic-related outcome.
The case has tortuously wound its way through the courts, going through three judicial rungs in North Carolina and now poised for oral argument in the nation's highest court.
Packingham's legal team will forcefully argue this: A basic fairness principle enshrined in American law is that criminal culpability should attach only to instances where an alleged offended acted with intent to commit a wrong.
And Packingham, well … he merely went online to praise Jesus.
A recent article discussing the Packingham case notes a broad "bipartisan coalition" that backs his position, with North Carolina's law being cited as a representative example of a fundamentally unfair and overreaching enactment.
There is certainly no question that state authorities have readily availed themselves of the law to mete out punishment. Reportedly, they have cited it in more than 1,000 cases.