It’s easy to denounce unpopular speech and encourage its prohibition when we don’t agree with what’s being said. But each of us may eventually advocate a cause that angers somebody.

Reactions to a recent public demonstration exemplify the importance of protecting free speech.


Members of the Pro-Life Action League displayed graphic images of aborted babies at certain intersections last month in Batavia, Ill. Joseph Scheidler, who founded the group in 1980, said in a subsequent letter to the editor that this event was part of the 11th annual Face the Truth Tour.


“We realize that it is shocking to most people to see pictures of the mangled bodies of aborted babies. What is worse, though, is that abortion is allowed to kill over 3,300 innocent children every day in America,” he wrote. “Some people are outraged that while we are displaying the graphic pictures along a road for drivers to see, young children may see them too, even though we place highly visible warning signs alerting drivers that there are graphic abortion pictures ahead, enabling them to take an alternate route.”


I’ve read comments from people outraged over the use of these images, which certainly can be upsetting. But whether you agree with the Pro-Life Action League or not, this incident underscores the First Amendment’s value. Although the expression of all ideas should be protected by the U.S. Constitution, popular sentiments don’t necessarily require legal safeguards.


It’s the unpopular or unsettling ideas that lean most heavily on our constitutional protections. Despite our nation’s commitment to free speech, we tend to urge lawmakers to curtail the expression of ideas we don’t like.


In the early 1990s, burning the U.S. flag was ruled by the Supreme Court as protected political speech. It was appalling that federal legislators had sought to outlaw the act. The governmental system of checks and balances worked in this instance.


It’s easy to denounce unpopular speech and encourage its prohibition when we don’t agree with what’s being said. But each of us may eventually advocate a cause that angers somebody.


This is when we realize that all speech, even that which turns our stomachs, must be equally protected. We should embrace the First Amendment as much when it safeguards ideas we hate as when it shields ideas we cherish.


Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.