From reading New York Times editorials, I gather that the First Amendment protects celebrities who curse on TV and pit bull enthusiasts who sell dogfighting videos. Yet somehow it does not protect conservative activists who hate Hillary Clinton, Christian student groups that exclude people who engage in extramarital sex or petition-signers who fear harassment if they are publicly identified as opponents of gay marriage.
Like the Times, I cheered last week when the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on depictions of animal cruelty, which was worded broadly enough to cover hunting magazines, bullfight footage and maybe even "Conan the Barbarian." And I agree that the Federal Communications Commission's vague and arbitrary "indecency" regulations, which impose multimillion-dollar fines on broadcasters who accidentally offend bureaucratic sensibilities, should meet the same fate.
Still, I have to admit that political criticism, religious association and ballot initiatives are closer to the heart of the First Amendment than Cher's expletives or "Japan Pit Fights." The distinctions drawn by the Times are therefore hard to justify on constitutional grounds. They make more sense if you assume the paper's editorialists are not eager to defend people's rights when they have trouble identifying with them.
Although the Times does not broadcast music award ceremonies or sell dogfighting videos, newspapers are understandably sensitive to restrictions on the speech of media outlets. But why did the Times, which is owned by a corporation, support limits on what Americans organized as corporations can say about politicians?
Possibly because those restrictions included an exemption for media corporations. The exemption covered officially recognized news organizations such as the Times but not uncredentialed competitors like Citizens United, which produced the anti-Clinton documentary that the Times thought should be banned from TV until after the 2008 presidential primaries.
Like Citizens United, the Christian Legal Society is not a group that Times editorialists are inclined to like. But the society has a strong claim that Hastings College of the Law, by preventing officially recognized student groups from demanding that voting members adhere to traditional principles of sexual morality, violates the First Amendment right to organize with like-minded individuals in furtherance of one's beliefs.