Many of our founding fathers believed so strongly in Freedom of Speech that there was no question it would be first in the Bill of Rights. Curiously, protection of religion was listed first, however I have to believe there were loud arguments that protection of speech should be listed first. For without Free Speech, there would be no religion, no right to peaceably assemble, no right to petition for redress of grievances. Free Speech was so incredibly important it’s doubtful that any other form of government could have come about without it.
Obviously there are limits. Speech must not be used to cause physical injury to others or for sedition or incitement to riot. Even so, the Supreme Court has never been clear on exactly where the limits should be set. One example is pornography. What some see as clearly evil others see as art. One of the earliest attempts at creating a motion picture using an 1880 zoopraxiscope involved a naked lady video that could have tested the bounds of free speech.
My point is this: One of the things demanded by the homeowners’ rights movement is to stop Homeowners Associations from restricting free speech. It’s is a very real problem when HOA officials refuse to allow political signs, bumper stickers, any material that advocates for candidates who are not on the ‘approved’ HOA candidate list. It’s problematic when HOAs pass rules that a Christian may not hold Bible studies in his home. It’s more than annoying when an HOA president can have a birdbath featuring a nude woman, but that same board official outlaws religious statuary.
HOAs were created, among other things, to control bad taste. But if the U.S. Supreme Court is incapable of deciding what’s in bad taste, how is a typical HOA board member any wiser? The HOA gets away with governing taste by claiming it’s a private club or corporation where taste can be anything the board says it is.
Homeowners rights advocates are gradually winning a few 1st Amendment battles here and there. We might even see more such victories in the future. But as we keep increasing our volume alerting legislatures to the outrages of abusive HOAs, and as a tiny segment of our society takes advantage of the chance to be outrageous and obnoxious to neighbors, we’d better get ready to answer a question the U.S. Supreme Court could not: “What are the outer limits of bad taste?”