Hate Speech, Snyder v. Westboro Baptist Church, and Public-Private Concerns

I recently read Rosalie Berger Levinson’s article “Targeted Hate Speech and the First Amendment: How the Supreme Court Should Have Decided ‘Snyder’” The following passage stuck with me the most (p. 53):

The  Fourth  Circuit  in  Snyder acknowledged  that  private  individuals,  like  Mr.  Snyder,  may  be  entitled  to greater protection, but it held that the statements on the placards displayed by the  Westboro  Baptist  Church  expressed  protected  opinion  or  hyperbolic political speech, which may never form the basis for civil liability. Surprisingly,  the  Supreme  Court  did  not  address  Mr.  Snyder’s  status  as  a private  victim. Instead, it broadly  ruled  that  the  critical  factor  was  the Westboro  Baptist  Church’s  speech  was  of  public  concern.

It raised a few questions I don’t have clear answers for yet: Can an opinion voiced in public become so delusional that it ceases to be a “public concern” and rather a mental health – private – concern?

But this separation of mental health/private – public opinion might be problematic for people on the psychotic spectrum. If we accept this separation, can people on the spectrum then no longer be part of public discourse? I know there is a middle ground, but could it be defined in a legal manner that could get upheld by a less nuanced justice system?


Levinson, Berger, and Rosalie. “Targeted Hate Speech and the First Amendment: How the Supreme Court Should Have Decided “Snyder.”” Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 2012.

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