The Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision in favor of free speech – even when it comes to offensive trademarks – is once again a lesson in recognizing the essential nature of First Amendment rights under our Constitution.
While the decision overruling the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s bar on intellectual property protection for names deemed offensive did not even mention the Washington Redskins, this precedent will likely clear all legal obstacles to the National Football League team keeping its controversial moniker.
The following came from a joint statement released by the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation:
Washington’s football team promotes, markets and profits from the use of a word that is not merely offensive — it is a dictionary-defined racial slur designed from the beginning to promote hatred and bigotry against Native Americans, If the NFL wants to live up to its statements about placing importance on equality, then it shouldn’t hide behind these rulings, but should act to end this hateful and degrading slur.
This illustrates the central paradox at the core of the country’s most sacred principles. Specifically, it is possible to revere the right of Americans to speak freely and still be revolted by what they say?
Such was the case when the late Antonin Scalia recounted the reasons for siding with the majority in the case of Texas v. Johnson, which found that Gregory Lee Johnson had a constitutional right to burn the flag.
“I hate the result [of the Texas v. Johnson case],” Scalia told the Brooklyn Law School in 2014. Calling Johnson a “bearded weirdo,” Scalia said, “I would send that guy to jail so fast if I were king.” Fortunately, this country has no king, as proven by the fact that America allows people the freedom to do things that Scalia finds repulsive.
As for the Redskins, this decision will likely do little to end the conflict over the appropriateness of the name. Indeed, it is probable that the debate will heat up in the short term, and that both sides will dig in their heels and make the same tired arguments they’ve been making for years. Free speech does not mean freedom from controversy. It only means that bearded weirdos don’t have to worry about going to jail for expressing themselves in ways the government doesn’t like.