Brief Fact Summary.
The Massachusetts state courts’ order that a self-proclaimed gay group admitted to the annual parade was protested by a private organization as a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A narrow, succinctly articulable message is not a condition of constitutional protection, which if confined to expressions conveying a particularized message would never reach the shielded painting of Jackson Pollock.
Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens.View Full Point of Law
In 1992, a number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual descendants of the Irish immigrants joined together with other supporters to form the respondent organization, GLIB, to march in the parade as a way to express pride in their Irish heritage as openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. In 1993, the Council of Massachusetts refused to admit GLIB to the upcoming parade, and the organization filed the suit alleging violations of the State and Federal Constitutions and of the state public accommodations law that prohibits any discrimination or restriction on account of sexual orientation relative to the admission of any person to public accommodation.
May Massachusetts require private citizens who organize a parade to include among the marchers a group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey?
No, such a mandate violates the First Amendment. The Council clearly decided to exclude a message it did not like from the communication it chose to make, and that is enough to invoke its right as a private speaker to shape its expression by speaking on one subject while remaining silent on another. The parade’s organizers may object to unqualified social acceptance of gays and lesbians or have some other reason for wishing to keep GLIB’s message out of the parade.
Since all speech inherently involves choices of what to say and what to leave unsaid, one important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say. Though the State may at times prescribe what shall be orthodox in commercial advertising by requiring the dissemination of purely factual information, outside that context it may not compel affirmance of a belief with which the speaker disagrees. This general rule, that the speaker has the right to tailor the speech, applied not only to expressions of value, opinion, or endorsement, but equally to statements of fact the speaker would rather avoid, subject to the permissive law of defamation. Nor is the rule’s benefit restricted to the press.