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Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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Bethany loved Matt. That was before she discovered he was an unfaithful rat.

So she broke off their engagement to be married, and they went their separate ways.

That may not sound like the usual ingredients for a fight over free speech. But last week, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a divided 43-page, single-spaced opinion that rejected a free-speech challenge to Illinois’ law banning “revenge porn.”

But while a majority of five justices affirmed the law, two dissenters argued that the ruling could — and will — criminalize innocent conduct.

“... simply viewing an image sent in a text message and showing it to the person next to you could result in criminal charges,” wrote dissenting Justice Rita Garman.

She was joined in her dissent by Justice Mary Jane Theis.

What does this have to do with Bethany and Matt? A lot.

For starters, there’s a neighbor woman to whom Matt had taken more than a shine.

After undocumented preliminaries, the neighbor sent a series of nude pictures of herself to Matt. The complicating factor was that she sent them to the Apple iCloud account shared by Bethany and Matt.

“Matt was aware of this data-sharing arrangement but took no action to disable it,” wrote Justice P. Scott Neville, writing for the court’s majority.

Matt’s indifference raises an interesting but legally irrelevant question: How committed was he to his and Bethany’s planned nuptials?

Bethany’s reaction to finding the neighbor’s nude pictures was predictable. The pyrotechnics blew their relationship sky high.

Matt’s relatives wondered what happened, but Matt had a cover story. He said Bethany “was crazy and no longer cooked or did household chores.”

That further infuriated Bethany, who wrote a four-page letter to Matt’s relatives giving her side of the story. She backed it up with documentation — the nude pictures of the neighbor. That irritated the neighbor, who complained to police.

Bethany was subsequently charged with the felony offense of ”non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images.”

Bethany’s lawyer argued the charge violated her First Amendment right to free speech. A McHenry County trial judge — Joel Berg — ruled in Bethany’s favor, finding that the state’s 2015 “revenge porn” law is an impermissible content-based restriction on free speech.

Because Berg struck down a state law, the appeal went directly to the Illinois Supreme Court for review.

While obviously broad, the First Amendment declaration that the government “shall pass no law” abridging freedom of speech is not absolute. Exceptions — threats, child pornography, fighting words, defamation — have long been recognized.

The court majority said none of the recognized exceptions applied to the facts in this case, but said the “consideration of personal privacy” is an important factor to consider.

Challenges to free speech can be considered on more than one level, the most strict being “strict scrutiny,” meaning a “content-based law ... requires the government to demonstrate that the law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.”

A lesser standard is “intermediate scrutiny.” That’s the test the court majority applied on revenge porn.

The majority found that it was the “manner of the image’s acquisition” — without consent — and not its content that was “crucial to the illegality of its dissemination.”

This was a “private” matter, the court said, not a matter of public concern that would require more rigorous First Amendment protection.

“We reject (Bethany’s) argument that a person who receives a private sexual image acquires an ownership interest that entitles him or her to do with it as he or she sees fit, including dissemination to others without the consent of the person portrayed,” Neville wrote.

Garman, however, contended that analysis of the statute requires “strict scrutiny” because “the content of the photo makes it a possible crime,” making the prohibition “content-based.”

She argued that the statute is not “narrowly tailored” as required because it does not require malicious intent on the part of the person who distributes the picture or any injury to the person who is portrayed in the picture.

That allows the following scenario, Garman argued, of two people on a date.

“... one later sends the other a text message containing an unsolicited and unappreciated nude photo. The recipient then goes to a friend, shows the friend the photo and says, ‘Look what this person sent me.’ Has the recipient committed a felony?” she said.

The majority’s answer to the question is yes, and that, Garman argued, makes the “revenge porn” statute unconstitutionally broad because it “stifles the exercise of fundamental personal liberties.”

The Illinois Supreme Court sent the criminal case against Bethany back to the trial court for further action. She has the option of filing a long-shot request with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.