Monday, February 28, 2005

New Legislation Would Ban Urban Legends

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By Brian Briggs

Washington D.C. – A new law proposed by a bipartisan group of Representatives would outlaw the spread of "urban legends."

Representative Simon Heedsmore of West Virginia said, "We cannot allow these frauds to be perpetrated on the American public. If the right urban legend were to be created it could cause a panic which could have dangerous consequences to national security."

Kevin Sikes, staffer for Representative Lewis of South Carolina said, "It's ridiculous how many questions about the e-mail tax we get. There ought to be a law to stop that sort of thing, and soon there will be."

Publicly, Representatives are touting "national security" on the urban legend issue, but privately they say the real reason is preventing embarrassment. In January, a bill almost made it out of committee that would've forced Starbucks to sell coffee to the armed forces in Iraq. The bill was in response to a hoax circulating in e-mail that Starbucks was refusing to provide coffee to the army, because it did not support the war. Fortunately, a staffer found the hoax debunked on a web site, before the bill made it to the floor for a vote.

"It was embarrassing for the Representatives and they didn't want to go through that again," said one staffer who wished to remain anonymous.

The bill would punish individuals who create or spread this type of information. Penalties range from fines of $500 for sending an urban legend e-mail to 90 days in jail for creating and publishing one.

The ACLU contends that this law would violate free speech rights. "Congress cannot limit constitutionally guaranteed rights, just because they are too dumb to realize something is a piece of fiction. We are confident the law will be overturned," said Chief Counsel Elliott Spence.

An urban legend or urban myth is usually apocryphal story involving incidents of the recent past, often including elements of humor and horror, which spreads quickly and is popularly believed to be true.

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