Supreme Court lets ‘gruesome images’ decision stand

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take a case involving a court order that blocked anti-abortion activists from displaying large photos of aborted fetuses outside a Denver church holding a Easter procession. The church sued the activists to shield  children from the gruesome images. (The Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 2013, by Warren Richey)

In a petition for writ of certiorari for the activists to the Supreme Court, Professor Eugene Volokh argued, “…the restriction on ‘gruesome images’ does not fall in to any of these zones of lesser First Amendment protection. Rather, the restriction is frankly content – based, as the court below acknowledged. App.18 a. It applies to a quintessential traditional public forum, a public sidewalk. And it does not enjoy the support of a single Supreme Court precedent involving political speech on any other subject.” He argued that the lower court decision restricted content, the photos of the aborted fetuses, that was crucial to the activists’ message.”

For the First Amendment Center, Charles C. Haynes, June 13, 2013, writes that in its decision to let the lower court decision stand, the U.S. Supreme Court erred. It is troubling that the decision could limit expression in public places where it is inevitable that children would be present and possibly be disturbed by the message. “After all,” writes Haynes, “the ability to ‘shock the conscience’ depends on the right to shock the viewer – a right that is at the very heart of free speech.” -db