The Supreme Court Rejection of a Law could help Washington Redskins.
Bureaucrats shouldn’t decide what’s offensive: Our view.
The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed a bedrock First Amendment principle: that government cannot punish or suppress speech because some people find it offensive.
The unanimous decision represents a hard-fought victory for Simon Tam, the Asian-American founder of a rock band who named his group The Slants in an effort to turn an ethnic slur into something positive. In 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied Tam trademark protection, citing a law that bars the government from approving potentially disparaging trademarks.
Many people might find the band’s name offensive, but federal bureaucrats should not be in the business of determining what is and isn’t offensive, or protecting people from hurt feelings, which is essentially what the patent office did.
The beauty of the government our Founders created is that people who find The Slants — or any other name — offensive have plenty of options to express their disgust. They could go to a Slants concert and protest. Or launch a boycott. The antidote to speech you find offensive is more speech, not getting the government to ban it.
The outcome of the closely-watched case could affect a better-known battle over the controversial name of Washington’s NFL football team, the Redskins, which has been the target of protest for years by some Native Americans and others. In 2014, the patent office revoked several of the team’s trademarks, under the same law it applied to The Slants.
The team’s owner sued, and the case has been moving through the courts. On Monday, the Redskins claimed victory, though the case must still await a court ruling. Assuming the Redskins prevail legally, the decision about the name will rest where it belongs — with the team, the NFL and the fans, rather than with the government.