Monday, March 2, 2009

Geography of free speech

Via BlogNetNews, I see that Red Mass Group is frosted about abortion clinic buffer zones. Here's where I would normally say something sarcastic if only to imitate cable TV pundits, but on this I won't. Even though they're wrong, the First Amendment is important, defense of it needs as many allies as the ACLU can get (heh), and the commentary on their blog item is mostly - and unusually - pretty rational and temperate.

What most of them miss: If you think that it's Constitutional to forbid campaigning within 150 feet of the polls, you have to acknowledge that it's Constitutional to forbid hectoring within a smaller distance from an abortion clinic (in Massachusetts, 35 feet). Both involve protecting a right against intimidation, and there's no denying that the danger of intimidation is real.

Free speech is a simple concept, but around the edges, like most ideas, it gets harder. Both of the examples above involve balancing the rights of different groups. This sort of balancing happens all the time. The classic example, though it doesn't bear on buffer zones, is the prohibition of shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater. The state (that's us!) has a compelling interest in preventing that danger, and there is little countervailing value in the right to panic and stampede others.

Red Mass Group's most subtle point claims that clinic buffer zones specifically prohibit specific content. This is not the case. These laws prohibit behavior that is unwanted harassment, and they specifically do not speak to the content of the harassment. Thus, a voluntary human extinction group (you might think I'm kidding, but no!) could try to hector pregnant women to be sterilized during their abortions, and that behavior would be prohibited as well.


gtownridah said...

how can you blame the current economic collapse on the free market? Do you have no common sense?

lovable liberal said...

How can you miss the right thread to comment on? There are so many valid threads, but you comment on an item on abortion. Smooth!