The Supreme Court of the United States recently reaffirmed the right of Americans to speak their minds, especially with regard to politics, no matter the content of that speech. In fact, the more offensive the speech, the more necessary its defense. Justices ruled 8-1 in favor of upholding Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s platitudinous wisdom: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
In this instance, the Court protected the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest the funerals of servicemen and women it believes were killed because God dislikes America’s acceptance of homsexuality.
Sarah Palin, reliably obtuse, was quick to accuse the Court of lacking common sense. Predictably, the truth is the exact opposite of what Ms. Palin believes: an abundance of common sense is what allowed the Court to see that withouth freedom of speech for the worst of us, there is no guarantee of freedom of speech for the best – or the rest – of us.
There is great temptation in protecting the speech of the virtuous and not the speech of villains. But who is to decide which of us are virtuous, and which villains? In the case of homophobic churchmen protesting the funerals of American soldiers, the line is clear. But such easy distinction is rarely the case. Selective protection of the type Ms. Palin favors would thus necessitate judges to seperate virtuous speech from villainous so that one can be protected and the other restrained.
But who to trust with that job? And how will we know that person is not acting with another agenda in mind, even subconsciously: protecting the speech he agrees with, restricting that which he finds disagreeable, even unknowingly?
The answer is, we can’t. Which is exactly why, when it comes to the freedom of speech, we’re much better off safe than sorry. The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States understand this. Sarah Palin should try to. After all, it’s common sense.