Daily Digest: Hate speech is protected speech, teacher scorn, tax privacy v. missing kids

Katherine Lymn

Thursday, March 3:

  In the latest strong ruling in favor of the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that hateful speech at military funerals is protected free speech, the New York Times reported. After Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder died in Iraq, his funeral was one protested by the Westboro Baptist Church. The Church protests military funerals whether or not the deceased is gay, saying the deaths are punishment from God for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality. The protesters carry signs with messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and picket near the funerals. Snyder’s father, Albert, sued the church seeking emotional damages and to set a precedent to prevent protests at other military funerals. But SCOTUS continued its streak of offering extreme First Amendment protections, and ruled the protests, which take place on public property and on a matter of public concern, are constitutionally protected free speech. “Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, adding that the national commitment to free speech requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” Last year, SCOTUS ruled against limiting speech about politics and against illegalizing the distribution of animal cruelty videos. It’s expected to strike down a law regulating violent video games as well.

 The New York Times has a new angle on the Madison protests — the scorn teachers are suddenly getting from opponents. Teachers are taking the proposed cuts as not only financial dire straits, but also attacks on their values. “It’s hard to feel good about yourself when your governor and other people are telling you you’re doing a lousy job,” said Steve Derion, 32, who teaches American history in Manahawkin, N.J. “I’m sure there were worse times to be a teacher in our history — I know they had very little rights — but it feels like we’re going back toward that direction.” Education experts said teachers have rarely been targeted as they are now in Madison and nationally. Republican lawmakers in a handful of states want to cut back on tenure and seniority protections. “Some experts question whether teaching, with its already high attrition rate — more than 25 percent leave in the first three years — will attract high-quality recruits in the future,” the NYT reported.

  Missing children advocates have taken on a new battle: convincing privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to be able to use IRS tax filings to search for missing children, the Strib reported. In a recent survey, the Federal Treasury found that of 1,700 cases of missing children, a third had been declared on tax returns by the relatives that took them. With that info in tow, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and missing children’s advocate Patty Wetterling want to enable law enforcement to use this information in searches. Kolubuchar, formerly the Hennepin County attorney, said “it make no sense” this information is out there but can’t been used by law enforcement. The ACLU, on the other hand, warns of a slippery slope. “Once you open the door, other compelling interests will come forward, said ACLU legislative council Chris Calabrese. But “the parents of missing children don’t care about jurisdictional boundaries … they care about getting their child back,” said Wetterling, whose son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989 at age 11, and was never found.