‘Not all speech is protected if [it] is hate speech and it is intended to ridicule another religion’

Fox News reports:

Satan worshippers are planning to stage a “black mass” next month in Oklahoma City, prompting outrage from the leader of the city’s 120,000 Catholics, who also condemns municipal officials for allowing the event to be held in a public venue.

The event is being staged by the satanist group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu at the Oklahoma City Center Music Hall on Sept. 21. The group’s leader is a registered sex offender.

Lawyers for Oklahoma City’s municipal government say the occultists have a right to lease the public space under the First Amendment.

“I’m disappointed by their response,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City told FoxNews.com Friday. “If someone had come to them to rent the Civic Center to stage a burning of the Koran or to hold an event that was blatantly and clearly anti-Semitic, I think they might find a way to prevent it.

“Not all speech is protected if there is hate speech and it is intended to ridicule another religion,” he said. “I don’t believe it is a free speech matter.”

No, speech intended to ridicule or insult another religion is entirely constitutionally protected, as the Court has held since 1940. Under the First Amendment, people are free to criticize, ridicule, parody, and insult religious belief systems, no less than other belief systems — whether they are Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, atheism, capitalism, Communism, feminism, or fascism.

And this remains true even as to government-owned auditoriums that have been generally open for public rental. The government may not exclude speech from such places, whether they are called “designated public fora” or “limited public fora,” on the grounds that it’s blasphemous or “hateful” or “intended to ridicule another religion.” (It’s an open question whether the government may sometimes exclude all religious worship services from particular kinds of government property, but I’m unaware of any such across-the-board exclusion as to the Civic Center Music Hall, and indeed at least one church apparently regularly conducts services there.)

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.

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Eugene Volokh · August 8, 2014