Saturday, March 5, 2011
March 5, 2011
The First Amendment to the Constitution is straightforward: "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The key words, whether you're talking about freedom of speech or of religion are "no law."
So it shouldn't have surprised us when the Court ruled 8--1 in favor of some particularly vile free speech as practiced by a small, nutty church in Illinois. The Westboro Baptist Church likes to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. They display signs reading, among other things, "God Hates Your Tears," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Hates Fags," and so on. The church says it is protesting America's tolerance of homosexuality. But that's not the point.
The point is that this is tasteless, offensive speech and it's covered by the First Amendment.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that we can't react by "punishing the speaker." "We have chosen a different course," Roberts wrote, "to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
Bravo, Chief Justice. And let's hear it for the Constitution!