The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Protecting free speech

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 15, 2005

When you think of free speech, what rights come to mind? At the core of free speech, should not speech concerning political and social concerns be the most protected? Should not the attempts at censorship on these types of speech alarm us the most?

A few days ago, the Supreme Court refused to correct several of the lower courts that restricted speech aimed at political and social concerns. In many states, people wished to put slogans on their license plates, the type of which we have all seen before. Any interest group, if it collects enough signatures, wishes to purchase the specialty plate and are willing to pay a fee to offset the cost to the state, are allowed to engage in expression in this forum. Slogans such as “Kids first” or “Save the wildlife” are some examples. Recently, however, Planned Parenthood got up in arms because many states, upon their citizens meeting the necessary signature and paperwork requirements, introduced “Choose Life” or “Respect Life” type plates.

First, they demanded that a pro-choice plate or something similar be allowed, despite the fact they never met the necessary signature requirements. They could not meet their agenda goals because of a lack of interest or numbers among them, so they sued for it legally. Seeing this effort fail, they sued again to censor the pro-life message, arguing it would be “viewpoint discrimination.” Last time I checked, when people choose to express one message instead of another in a neutrally run government forum, there was no ground to claim viewpoint discrimination. When individuals choose one message instead of another, the government is not discriminating. People are voicing their opinion.

Ironically, Planned Parenthood’s president, Gloria Feldt, said on the issue, “Free speech does not mean muzzling opposing points of view … America’s pro-choice majority deserves a fair chance to be heard in any venue.” If you are unable to collect the necessary signatures for the required showing of interest, a neutral requirement dating long back before the abortion debate entered this venue for expression, you had, and still have, a fair chance. Your message is not being muzzled just because fewer people are interested in proclaiming it. Disallowing pro-lifers to express their respect and love for life is muzzling your opponent’s point of view.

This justification for this censorship ironically came from the First Amendment. There is only one reason such a result occurred: certain judges in our federal courts are willing to bend any rule to advance their political support for abortion. When they inside-out free speech protection, however, they have simply gone way too far. We should all take note that this organization that purports to promote individual choice as a paramount value, even over life, has engaged in censorship of the political and social concern type of speech the First Amendment was foremost enacted to protect.

Planned Parenthood has also fought against fetal pain notification laws, despite the fact that Zogby, an independent pollster, has polled Americans supporting the measure by a 75 percent to 18 percent margin. As a society, we currently do less about the horrible pain suffered by unborn babies during abortion than we do to prevent pain for livestock. Without delving into the gruesome details, one measure we should immediately take is to at least provide the unborn babies with anesthesia so their deaths will not involve excruciating, highly-inhumane pain, and mothers should have the right to know the level of pain involved for the unborn babies.

Brian Noonan

Law student

Feb. 14