But this time the prayer posting has stayed up and dozens are adding their post and presumably prayer to it for the president's demise. The death prayer raises these questions: Does uttering a death threat even if couched as an imprecatory prayer on Facebook cross the line between protected speech and hate speech? What exactly does Facebook consider hateful speech? What does Facebook consider as gratuitous violence? Constitutional scholars, attorneys, and civil liberty organizations, and the courts have endlessly wrestled with these questions in every context imaginable, every one that is except in the Facebook case. Though Facebook has wrestled with them too, and in more cases than not, actually taken action, and dumped users.
The bigger danger is that polls and postings that urge serious harm to President Obama fuel the climate of resonant hate and crackpotism that's deep and widespread against him. In a real sense this gives backdoor credibility to those who cavalierly think there's nothing wrong with imploring violence against a sitting president. So when a pack of fundamentalist preachers openly pray for the president's demise as Phoenix pastor Steven Anderson and Southern California pastor Wiley Drake did last year their threats (prayers) pass low under the public radar scope.
The danger flags about Obama, of course, have flown high from the moment that he announced he would seek the presidency in February 2007. He had the dubious distinction of being the earliest presidential contender to be assigned Secret Service protection on the campaign trail. This didn't ease the jitters over his safety. Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson fired off a letter to Secret Service officials practically demanding that the Secret Service provide all the resources and personnel it could to ensure Obama's and the other presidential candidates' security. Thompson heard the whispers and nervous questions from his constituents about Obama's safety.
At any other time and with any other president, the Facebook million strong and still counting posts imploring the Lord to act against the president might be shrugged off as a sick joke. But this is not another time or another president. Obama has been the butt of every dig, insult, and knock sick minds could conjure up. Apparently thinks that's OK as long as it's just a prayer.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).