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What is the Law on Seditious libel in Iowa and What are the Punishments for it?

In the United States, seditious libel refers to speech which is aimed at the overthrow of the government. It is currently criminalized. It was first criminalized with the Alien and Sedition Act.

What is Seditious Libel?

Sedition is classified as a federal crime in the United States of America. Sedition refers to promoting an uprising against the government of the United States of America. In addition to this, sedition also refers to supporting an enemy of the United States of America during wartime. Support can be in the form of publications, organizations as well as speeches. Seditious libel refers to published statements which are seditious in nature.

The United States Constitution protects the citizens of the U.S. from prosecution by the government if they express an opinion or protest against the policies of the government. However, if a citizen or citizens attempt to disrupt the processes of the government, it is classified as sedition.

It is important to state that sedition is not the same as treason. Treason involves espionage or an act or acts which betray the government.

Seditious Libel Law,

Seditious libel is a very delicate topic. There is a fine line which mustn’t be crossed. For example, while anti-war activism appears to be promoting sedition, the activists who participate aren’t prosecuted for seditious speech.

The United States Supreme Court has clarified that as long as seditious libel doesn’t indicate an imminent threat, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects seditious libel.

Punishment for Seditious Libel

The original punishments for seditious libel include being imprisoned for twenty years or less, a fine of $10,000 or less or both. However, an amendment was made which increased the fine to $20,000 or less. Since seditious libel is a federal crime, Iowa upholds this law with the same punishment.

Libel vs Slander

Libel is defined as any publication which is harmful to the reputation of another. Slander is defined as words which are defamatory in nature which prejudices another person in their office, trade, business or reputation.  In other words, slander refers to spoken defamation while libel refers to written defamation.

Iowa Seditious Libel Laws
History of Seditious Libel

The first English colonists brought with them the concept of seditious libel to North America. At the time, English law made it a criminal offense to make statements or publish material which intended to criticize or promote dissatisfaction with the government.

The truth wasn’t accepted as a valid defense and usually made the offense worse. However, there were plenty of colonists who did not agree with this view of seditious libel. Their argument was that the opportunities for independence as well as the freedom that America offered weren’t consistent with the tyrannical laws. The trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735 brought these conflicting opinions to the court.

Defamation wasn’t protected by the First Amendment until the second half of the 20th century. Prior to being protected by the First Amendment, disputes over damage to reputation were resolved by the laws on slander and libel. A public apology was the most common solution to proven libel or slander.

Different countries handle sedition differently. However, the general opinion is that it isn’t a subversive act. In fact, the definition of sedition in a legal sense has changed many times at certain points of history. Today sedition is only treated seriously during wartime and if the situation is serious.

Presently, sedition is often ignored as is evidenced by anti-war activists remaining unprosecuted despite spreading seditious speech and in some cases seditious libel. The state of Iowa follows federal guidelines when dealing with seditious libel.

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