The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCullen v. Coakley yesterday that a Massachusetts law prohibiting free-speech activities within 35 feet of the entrance or driveway of an abortion clinic violates the First Amendment.
The buffer zones serve the Commonwealth’s legitimate interests in maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and in preserving access to adjacent reproductive healthcare facilities. See Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N. Y., 519 U. S. 357, 376. At the same time, however, they impose serious burdens on petitioners’ speech, depriving them of their two primary methods of communicating with arriving patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. Those forms of expression have historically been closely associated with the transmission of ideas. While the Act may allow petitioners to “protest” outside the buffer zones, petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives. It is thus no answer to say that petitioners can still be seen and heard by women within the buffer zones. If all that the women can see and hear are vociferous opponents of abortion, then the buffer zones have effectively stifled petitioners’ message [emphasis mine; Chief Justice John Roberts, McCullen v. Coakley, 2014.06.26].
Great. Awesome. From this ruling, we may logically and legally conclude that...
- South Dakota's ban on free speech within 1,000 feet of funerals is unconstitutional... as long as the Westboro Baptist Church can restyle its followers as petitioners, not protestors, and gear down from shouting to simply handing out pamphlets and seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations about how God hates fags and killed your son in Iraq because of gay marriage.
- Free speech zones outside political conventions and Presidential appearances are unconstitutional. I'm a petitioner, and laws do not trump my First Amendment right to approach the President, nominees for President, political party members, and anyone else attending such events and seek a personal, caring, consensual conversation.
- Peddling (petitioning for?) smut at an LGBT Pride Festival within 35 feet of children is perfectly constitutional. As long as smut peddlers aren't blocking the flow of traffic and are speaking in personal, caring tones, they're safe under the First Amendment. Wait... I already knew that... offensive, but constitutional.
I find the notion that the Supreme Court is covering for anti-abortion coercers bothersome. But I can't impugn their First Amendment logic. I will only ask that they extend that logic across the board... and that the beneficiaries of that First Amendment protection respect the civil boundaries the Court assumes petitioners will observe.