So the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that hateful and often violent action constitutes protected free speech.
The U.S government and the courts have had a long, tumultuous relationship with the rights of the citizenry to participate in speech critical of the government and others, including the rights to assembly and freedom of association that allow the people to voice their opinions singularly or collectively without fear of imprisonment. However, a recurring theme in this right to protected free speech is that it is protected as long as it is executed in a peaceful manner. For the preservation of public safety, speech that is destructive, and assemblies and associations that are violent, are not generally considered protected. Thus, the passing of pamphlets is protected; the throwing of bricks and bombs is not.
The purpose of Massachusetts’ decision to enforce a 35 foot boundary around abortion clinics was clearly in the spirit of public safety. Anti-abortionists have earned their reputation for non-peaceful assembly and harassment. Doctors have been murdered; clinics have been bombed; people have been physically assaulted. Therefore, while the case can be made that these boundaries interfered with the anti-abortionists abstract right to assembly, this had to be balanced with the real world duty of the government to protect the citizenry. By the fact that anti-abortionists have demonstrated a recurring inability to assemble peacefully, Massachusetts was well within its rights to keep those demonstrations at a safe distance from others.
That being said, there is also an argument here for the difference between civil disobedience and radicalism. While the government may feel otherwise, the people have a right to engage in activities that push the envelope in terms of what is protected and what is not. The difference in this regard, however, between civil disobedience and radicalism is in both undertaking and intent. Civil disobedience is, by definition, the assembly of people who believe that the government can be pushed into realigning itself with the will of the people. Radicalism is, by definition, the assembly of people who do not believe that the government can be pushed into realigning itself with the will of the people. Civil disobedience is about working against the constraints of the system—by stressing it—in order to enact change. Radicalism is about destroying the system altogether in favor of something else. Civil disobedience tends to be peaceful, radicalism tends to be violent.
Within that context, then, can the anti-abortion protests that led to the state creating a 35 foot buffer around abortion clinics be considered civil disobedience? Does harassing the people entering and leaving clinics, threatening doctors, and even resorting to murder and bombs constitute the peaceful assembly of people working to change the system? Clearly, it does not. Indeed, resorting to those actions is undoubtedly in response to a lack of faith in the ability to change the system: hence radical. What the Supreme Court has done in siding against Massachusetts is to side with radicalism: radicalism, as long as it is conducted by anti-abortionists, is now considered protected speech and assembly.
It should be easy to understand why this is a dangerous precedent. If the state cannot protect citizens from violence, then citizens will understandably result to violence as a means of self-preservation. If a citizen has to carry a club to legally enter an abortion clinic, then he or she will. The decision made by the Supreme Court is bound to end in more violence and tears.
When radicalism becomes the rule of the day, then widespread violence will eventually follow. This was not only a bad decision with regards to the ability of the state to protect its people, but yet another bad decision by the Supreme Court with regards to our democracy in general.