I’m a bit tired of the headlines. Today’s Supreme Court case is not about the Supreme Court striking down a law prohibiting animal cruelty. No one on the Court is in favor of animal cruelty. It’s about Congress overreaching and writing bad laws and intruding on a basic, fundamental American right.
And of course the speech in question is awful. Stomach-turning. That’s not the point. The point is that if the majority gets a veto on speech simply because it is distasteful, the next step after the dog fight videos will be movies with children and sex, and you’ve lost not only Lolita but Romeo and Juliet too. And after that, it becomes speech that is critical of the government because that tends to be unpopular too — and now you’ve created a police state.
Popular, unobjectionable speech doesn’t need the First Amendment. A movie about well-groomed schoolchildren who like their parents, stay out of trouble, study and get good grades, respect the President and their Congressman, and play cooperatively and quietly together will offend no one — and will never, ever, ever be in danger of being censored or getting its authors in any kind of trouble. (Other than financial trouble because such a movie would be of so little interest to anyone that it couldn’t help but lose money.) It’s the people who say and do things that offend and make people upset who are the ones that are at the vanguard of our freedoms. The Clarence Brandenburgs and Paul Robert Cohens and now the Robert J. Stevenses of the world who do and say really reprehensible things are the ones to whom the law must look to show the boundaries of our freedoms — because our freedoms are as against the government, and it is the Brandenburgs and Cohens and Stevenses who attract the government’s attention precisely because what they do is so reprehensible.
So we must send Congress back to the drawing board to combat the national emergency of “crush videos.” As repellent as I find crush videos and other depictions of animal cruelty to be — and let there be no doubt that it I join all right-thinking people in finding them really, really awful — it is a small price to pay for affirmation of the vibrancy of the First Amendment.