The six-foot-tall letters that adorn the outside of Newhouse III remind us every day that the First Amendment protects our right to freedom of speech. Some of us may think of freedom of speech as an abstract idea or as an inalienable right – of course we can say what we want to say, of coruse we can criticize the government, of course we can write letters to the editors of our local papers without fear of repurcussion. Many of us may not have had direct experience with First Amendment issues and don’t give it much thought.
But sometimes issues arise and we need to decide just how far the First Amendment extends, and it’s not easy. The Supreme Court recently decided the case of Snyder v. Phelps, in which the father of fallen Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing outside his son’s funeral.
This country is highly divided over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not many would argue that protesting outside the funeral of a fallen serviceman or woman is the right thing to do. This was an emotionally fueled case that generated a lot of controversy. Roy Gutterman, the director of the Tully Center for Free Speech, wrote a piece for The Huffinton Post about why the Supreme Court was justified in ruling against Snyder. He contends that church members who protested were “opportunistic crackpots,” but he also asserts that the First Amendment gives protection to even the most bizarre citizens of this country. The church members may have been disrespectful and out of line, but Gutterman upheld the meaning behind the letters outside of Newhouse and stood up for the importance of preserving First Amendment rights.