Hate speech is another form of speech that may not receive constitutional protection. Hate speech is derogatory in nature and is racial, religious or directed at a person’s sexual preference. It usually assigns stereotypical group characteristics to an individual.
For members of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funeral of a fallen soldier with signs that combine the U.S. Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi,” with a slur against gay men is demeaning to individuals for innate characteristics over which they have no control. This type of speech, in this setting, has no redeeming political or social value and is usually intended to cause emotional or psychological harm.
If the Ku Klux Klan is prohibited from burning a cross in a public space because of the intimidating and frightening nature of this particular form of speech, why should members of a church be allowed to picket a private funeral?
This is not the type of public policy that the First Amendment was intended to promote. This has nothing to do with political correctness or stifling political debate. It has everything to do with protecting an individual’s right to privacy. The court’s privacy doctrine, as explained by Justice Louis Brandeis, is “the right to be let alone.” The Supreme Court has failed to protect that right — a family’s right to a peaceful space in which to lay a loved one to rest.
Wilmer J. Leon III is the host of the nationally broadcast, call-in radio talk program Inside the Issues With Wilmer Leon. He also teaches political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. To read more of his viewpoints, go to wilmerleon.com. Follow him on Twitter.