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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Right to speech, not coverage

John Roberts and the Supremes got it right. Now news executives should do the same.

The Supreme Court's strong reaffirmation of the right to free speech, no matter how vile that speech may be, should actually be a small ray of solace for a progressive community that has a great deal of issues with the court's rightward drift.

The ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church is a reaffirmation of the 1977 decision declaring that Nazis had the right to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, home to a large population of Holocaust survivors.

The problem in today's 24-7 news cycle is not the abhorrent message of the "church" and its leaders. It's the encouragement they receive by continued media coverage of their hateful screeds.

There is a 1st Amendment right to speak your mind. There is no similar right to media coverage of that speech. That's the decision of news professionals who have been known to make mistakes in judgment.

The ruling is of small comfort to the families who will be burying their war dead in the near future. But if media executives begin to exercise news judgment in place of ratings frenzy, the bigots who picket funerals will soon be as scarce as Nazis marching in the streets of Illinois.

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Blogger DEN said...

I disagree. Yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater is prohibited. This is a reasonable limitation on free speech which does not abridge our liberty.

March 03, 2011 8:46 AM  
Anonymous GhostOfTyrone said...

It absolutely abridges our liberty, DEN. You may not agree with the message of the church (for the record, neither do I), but that does not mean they do not have the right to voice their beliefs.

If you want to start limiting speech - where should we draw the line?

Outraged/Massachusetts Liberal is exactly right: the problem isn't the speech, it's the attention we pay to it. I understand it's easier to make a call to ignore this kind of behavior from afar - as opposed to from the funeral of a loved one - but just because some one is speaking doesn't mean you have to listen.

I would like to think that if I were ever in the position of the mourners who brought this case against the Westboro Church - any anger I felt would be directed towards the church members themselves, and NOT the system that allows them to carry on as they do.

March 03, 2011 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should be allowed, it's their right. I would also hope in the future a vastly larger crowd could be arranged to encircle and drown out their chants with the singing of the National Anthem, God Bless America etc. They would become a speck in the landscape and not worthy of attention.

March 03, 2011 12:01 PM  
Blogger DEN said...

Tyrone, a line should be drawn when you are intentionally causing pain by interfering with a private ceremony to honor a dead loved one.
This is uncivil behavior (against citizens not against the state) and is not protected by endowed rights. Not in my book, anyhow.

March 03, 2011 12:58 PM  
Anonymous GhostOfTyrone said...


Can you let me know where that line is? Can you let me know who would get to decide what is and is not "hurtful" - and who would get to enforce this sort of thing?

Just curious.

March 03, 2011 2:20 PM  

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