You Should Be Respectful (But You Don’t Have to Be)
In an interesting parallel to the developments in the Maine Law Court that indicate a revival of state constitutional interpretation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a noteworthy opinion examining the protections granted to free speech under the Commonwealth’s constitution.
The case, Barron v. Kolenda, involved a town ordinance requiring all comments in public meetings to be “respectful and courteous, free of rude, personal or slanderous remarks.” The lawsuit arose after a town meeting degenerated to a level that the town’s board of selectmen deemed to be less than respectful. After a town resident alleged that the board had violated open meeting laws, the board recessed the meeting. A shouting match ensued, with the resident referring to a board member as “a Hitler” and the board member describing the resident as “disgusting.” The resident was compelled to leave the board meeting.
The town resident challenged the town ordinance under Massachusetts’ constitution. Article 19 of the Massachusetts Constitution