“Free speech for me– but not for thee.” That’s the title of a 1993 book by pro-life atheist Nat Hentoff. It’s also the principle at work in “buffer zone” laws, which essentially ban sidewalk counseling outside of abortion facilities. The following video gives an example of the type of speech that is banned in many states, including Massachusetts:
Happily, the Supreme Court recently decided to hear a challenge to the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law. Mind you, these are the same Justices who ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church nutjobs have the right to protest at funerals. If they hold that the pro-life message is entitled to less constitutional protection than disgusting posters condemning “fags”… well then, it will be time for us to take to the streets!
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit legal group that specializes in representing pro-lifers whose free speech rights are violated, has more on the significance of this case:
In McCullen v. Coakley, seven Massachusetts residents who engaged in pro-life counseling outside of abortion clinics challenged a state statute creating a thirty-five-foot fixed buffer zone around driveways and entrances of abortion clinics. The law prohibits everyone except clinic patients or employees from “entering or remaining” in the zone. The lower court upheld the buffer zone despite its prejudicial intent and application. Life Legal Defense Foundation filed an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief in the Supreme Court arguing that this buffer zone is unconstitutional.
“We are delighted that the Court is going to weigh in on this clear case of viewpoint discrimination,” stated Dana Cody, Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “Activists who make disturbances at military funerals, animal rights protests, and ‘occupy’ demonstrations are not bound by the sort of restrictions applied to peaceful pro-life witnesses who invite women to learn about abortion alternatives,” Cody explained, “It’s a true double standard and an unbelievable violation of First Amendment rights.”
Adding insult to injury, the First Circuit justified singling out pro-life speech for disfavored treatment by analogizing it to sexually oriented businesses. Just as “adult” bookstores and theaters have harmful “secondary effects” that allow cities to impose special zoning restrictions, so too, according to the First Circuit, pro-life sidewalk counseling and picketing have harmful “secondary effects” that governments can mitigate by imposing buffer zones and other restrictions. Cody explained, “In fact, what governments most fear about pro-life speech is not any ‘secondary effect.’ It is that women heading into clinics are hearing the truth about abortion.”
“Just the fact that the Court has taken the case should give pause to San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities that have recently imposed more draconian restrictions on pro-life speech,” Cody said. “We are optimistic that the Court will not only strike down the Massachusetts law, but also revisit some of its own prior precedents that have led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection.”