The Supreme Court in Snyder extolled the protected status of hate speech as essential to First Amendment values, even when targeting a private funeral where it caused significant emotional harm to grieving family members. The Court in essence ruled that hate speech, no matter how offensive and intentionally hurtful, is protected if it addresses a matter of public concern in a public place. This article contends that the near-absolutist position the Court espoused in Snyder does not comport with established First Amendment jurisprudence, which acknowledges several categories of unprotected or less protected speech. Nor can the Court’s analysis be reconciled with other decisions, which recognize that in some contexts concerns for human dignity, equality, and privacy outweigh First Amendment values. A review of this jurisprudence demonstrates why virulent, outrageous hate speech that targets private individuals for the purpose of directly inflicting egregious psychological harm should not enjoy unlimited First Amendment protection when injured parties bring civil tort suits for damages. . . .
For more information about Professor Levinson’s Donahue Lecture (which served as the basis for this article), as well as photos and audio from the event, please click here.