Westboro 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.