The New York Times, which is opposed to First Amendment protections for political advertising, has an untrammeled view of free speech when it comes to violent video games and even the picketing of soldiers' funerals by the family of Fred Phelps, infamous for their "God Hates Fags" signs and other despicable messages.
The New York Times Co. has filed a "friend of the court" brief with the Supreme Court (along with 20 other news outlets) in support of Phelps's church, which is being sued by the family of fallen Marine Matthew Snyder for picketing his funeral, displaying signs like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates you."
The Times found the matter important enough to devote Thursday's lead editorial to it -- "Lamentable Speech."
To the American Nazi Party, Hustler Magazine, and other odious figures in Supreme Court history, add the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Their antigay protests at the funeral of a soldier slain in Iraq were deeply repugnant but protected by the First Amendment.
All of the sympathy in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, which was argued on Wednesday at the Supreme Court, goes to the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, the fallen Marine. But as the appeals court in the case observed, using words of Justice Felix Frankfurter, "It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have often been forged in controversies involving not very nice people." That happened when the court protected Hustler's right to mock the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the right of American Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill.
Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general, sided with the Snyders for Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and many others in Congress. They argue that Congress and 46 states have passed laws limiting protests at funerals and, implicitly, that the support for the family was a heartfelt exception to the breakdown in Washington. Nadine Strossen, a former leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the chilling consequences for protest-filled university campuses if the church's position is not upheld.
One friend of the court brief called the protesters' message "uncommonly contemptible." True, but it is in the interest of the nation that strong language about large issues be protected, even when it is hard to do so.
The Times finds some kinds of speech even more offensive than "God Hates Fags": Campaign advertising by corporations. A January 22 editorial termed the Supreme Court's victory for expanding free speech, in the form of loosening restrictions on companies spending money on political campaigns, "The Court's Blow to Democracy."
The text was no less hysterical: "With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century."
Yet the Times has joined nearly two-dozen other news organizations in filing a "friend of the court" brief in support of the Phelps family. Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak made the omission deep in his story on Thursday, "Justices Take Up Funeral-Protest Case."
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a highly charged case involving protesters objecting to homosexuality who picketed a military funeral....The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations, including The New York Times Company, filed a brief supporting the Kansas church. It said the First Amendment protects even hateful speech on matters of public concern.