Hateful, Hurtful, and Free

03/14/2011 10:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Forget about the stuttering King George, forget about the vile-mouthed John Galliano. The big news right now is that Americans can speak their mind whenever and wherever they like, with the blessing of the Supreme Court.

Of course, it must be related to "public issues". Therefore, anti-war demonstrations at a soldier's funeral are okay.

But this gets confusing: the war is a public issue, the funeral is not. Even if the demonstration is kept at a distance (1,000 feet away?) the funeral is a very private, distressing affair that deserves respect and deference. If the soldier was straight or gay, if the war is justified or not, the bare fact is that the family and friends of the deceased are in mourning. To seize on the funeral as an opportunity to vent political views is, at the very least, obnoxious.

Writing for an eight-justice majority, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. argued that this country has chosen "to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The New York Times approved, saying: "The court has said before that speech about public affairs is 'the essence of self-government,' warranting "special protection."

The Washington Post also praised the decision, saying: "Speech cannot be quashed or punished simply because it is hateful or expresses an aberrant point of view."

Well, tell that to the French, who are prosecuting John Galliano for his hateful anti-Semitic tirades.

One wonders exactly what is happening to the minds of these nine august judges, who not so long ago proclaimed that corporations are people. Now they are saying that people are merely abstract voices, beyond the rules of personal decency.

Would they also condone anti-war demonstrations in front of VA hospitals, where wounded servicemen are being treated?

"Free speech," like anything free, has a price. Whether it's the unbridled rantings of a media pundit, or the foul language of an entertainment idol, or the vituperative rhetoric of an angry blogger, we are paying dearly in terms of our sanity and civility.

The First Amendment notwithstanding, there are times when we should just shut up.