Free speech ain’t always pretty

westboro.jpegWestboro Baptist Church’s free speech victory today is hardly the only controversial free-speech decision by a federal court or the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, the fourth circuit appeals court’s decision today noted that sometimes, defending free speech means being on the side of some “not very nice people.”

 In the Westboro case, the appeals court ruled that when members demonstrated with signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” outside the funeral of a Marine with local ties, that speech was protected. A lower court jury had awarded Spring Garden Township resident Albert Snyder a multi-million dollar award, saying Westboro had invaded his privacy and intentionally caused emotional distress.

Here is a sampling of cases, culled from the Cornell University Law School’s Supreme Court collection. This is by no means a complete list; I just clicked on a few free-speech decisions to see what I could find.

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 2002: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with an adult entertainment trade association and others that the Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996 unconstitutionally limited free speech when it said the prohibition on child pornography should include any visual depiction that “is or appears to be” or “conveys the impression of” a child engaging in sexually explicit conduct.The descriptions were “overbroad,” the court said.

Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 1991: A federal appeals court ruled that an Indiana law banning total nudity in public places violated the First Amendment, saying that nude dancing as entertainment is protected expression. (But the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned that decision.)

United States v. Eichman, 1990: The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law that banned burning the American flag, saying that burning the flag is protected under the First Amendment.

Check Cornell’s site for more; the browing is easy and the summaries are good. Also, you can go to this site devoted to the Supreme Court, where you not only can get case summaries, but can listen to the oral arguments. Cool. 

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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2 Responses to Free speech ain’t always pretty

  1. Roger Wyland says:

    Free Speech Coalition is a front for an industry that is plaged by prostitution, spread of STDs amongst each other and to the general public, and drugging performers with methamphetamine to reduce their inhibitions so they can perform. The producers entice young women with promises of fame and fortune, and then spit them out after a few movies. Threatened with being blacklisted in the porno industry and Hollywood, these naive girls see themselves as trapped in another abusive cycle and turn to Meth as an escape. This industry needs to be heavily regulated.

  2. Roger,
    Sorry didn’t respond to your comment until now. Do you have links to, or sourcing for, any info that backs up your claims? Would be interested to hear.

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