Below The Beltway

I believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe in, the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in, and the personal freedom that America used to believe in.

Ken Cuccinelli Stands Up For Freedom Of Speech

Virginia is one of only a handful of states that is not filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Plaintiff in the Snyder v. Phelps, the lawsuit by a father of a dead soldier seeking damages from the Westboro Baptist Church for their offensive funeral protests. Yesterday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli explained why:

If protesters — whether political, civil rights, pro-life, or environmental — said something that offended the object of the protest to the point where that person felt damaged, the protesters could be sued. It then becomes a very subjective and difficult determination as to when the line is crossed from severely offensive speech to that which inflicts emotional distress. Several First Amendment scholars agree.

Virginia already has a statute that we believe balances free speech rights while stopping and even jailing those who would be so contemptible as to disrupt funeral or memorial services. That statute, 18.2-415(B), punishes as a class one misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500) someone who willfully disrupts a funeral or memorial service to the point of preventing or interfering with the orderly conduct of the event. We do not think that regulation of speech through vague common law torts like intentional infliction of emotional distress strikes the proper balance between free speech and avoiding the unconscionable disruption of funerals. We think our statute does. So long as the protesters stay within the letter of the law, the Constitution protects their right to express their views. In Virginia, if Phelps or others attempt this repugnant behavior, cross the line and violate the law, the attorney general’s office stands ready to provide any assistance to local prosecutors to vindicate the law.

Cuccinelli is absolutely right, for reasons I noted some four years when I first discussed the Westboro Baptist Church protesters, offensive speech is perhaps the most important speech to protect:

Over the past several weeks, several states have taken steps to prevent protesters from picketing at funerals, a move propelled by the fact that an objectively offensive group of extreme Christians have been staging protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq claiming that the deaths America is experiencing in Iraq are God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality. Offensive ? Absolutely ? Should they have the right to be offensive ? I can’t see any reason why not.

Freedom of speech means that, sometimes, we will hear some truly offensive things. When government starts regulating speech based on the fact that it may offend, though, it diminishes freedom for everyone.

Indeed.

3 Responses to “Ken Cuccinelli Stands Up For Freedom Of Speech”

  1. David Weintraub says:

    I agree with the conclusion. I can’t help being skeptical of Cuccinelli’s motivation.

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