The First Amendment is a mighty shield, protecting all sorts of offensive speech. No matter how disgusting I might find the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church, in 2011, the Supreme Court found a First Amendment protection in its favor allowing the church to spew its hateful ideology in public. In Snyder v. Phelps (yes, Fred Phelps, the late leader of the Westboro cult), the Court held that a speaker on a public sidewalk, speaking about a public issue, cannot be held liable for the tort of emotional distress, even if the speech is ‘outrageous.’ But the Snyder Court also distinguished between hateful speech directed to issues of public importance, like homosexuality and abortion, and speech of a personal nature, like insults and lies, directed to a private person.
Hubert Crouch’s new book, The Word (2015), practically yanks the Westboro headlines from today’s paper. In his sophomore novel, the second installment of the Jace Forman series, Crouch brings together three main characters from his first book (Cries For No One (2013)) for a wild ride through a world where religious zealots hide behind the First Amendment to cover their virulent hate speech, high-powered attorneys hire thugs to intimidate magazine reporters from exposing their misdeeds, and an entire family – the McGuffin, if you will, for the story -– is killed off, one-by-one, until only their lawyer is left standing. Hey, The Word is set in Texas, after all! Continue reading