Look, I hate these guys so so so much, but this is the right decision. And it makes me nervous that any Supreme Court justice (here, Alito, who was a one-man minority) would think otherwise. Free speech cases have often come down to speech that is unpopular, or, here, the definition of cruel and evil. But just because something is wrong or hurtful doesn’t mean it should be illegal. And it’s troubling, to me, that Alito thinks we should be able to limit protests based on their content.
“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”
But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
That’s right. Westboro Baptist Church is made up of some of the ugliest, most hateful and vile people on the planet — but even they have a right to put that vileness in words. And we all have the right to speak out against them and challenge their ideas. What we don’t have the right to do is insist that our government step in to shut them up.