Free Speech, hateful speech, and GR

Warwick wrote a very interesting post ( that prompted me to write a comment. As many of you know, I'm a Supreme Court junkie and a case I always discuss with my students is the recent Snyder v Phelps in which the Westboro Baptist Church deliberately pickets the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan with signs such as “Fag troops,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”


The Court reaffirmed the lower court's overturning of Snyder's tort claim , even though the Phelps signs and picketing caused emotional distress and were intended to do so. To quote the majority opinion (8-1) " Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”


Now, I would be the first to admit that the victim-defined hateful comments on GR hardly rise to the level of national importance. On the other hand, GR might want to well think of the implications of what appears to be a heavy-handed approach to eliminating speech that someone, anyone, might consider to be harmful or offensive.


GR being a private entity can set whatever rules it wants, but as Warwick so ably writes, conversations about books always -- always -- evolve beyond the book into anecdotes that may or may not be precisely relevant to the book. I have been in many book discussion groups, and it's always the peripheral discussions that cement relationships among the participants. If GR really intends to enforce their "review-must-be-about-the book-policy" the uniqueness of their site will disappear.