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Protecting free speech

The stance that, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is among the most powerful — and important — comments ever made on freedom of speech.

Some attribute it to the French Enlightenment philosopher/historian Voltaire.

It is an important reminder that speech with which we disagree — or with which we are worried we might one day disagree — must be protected as strenuously as that with which we agree. Fortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court understands that and struck down as unconstitutional a lower court judge’s ruling forbidding a man from making online posts in the future about two of his family members.

Don’t get us wrong: We can believe that the women feel they were harmed by the posts, and it is certain that their feelings were hurt by his online comments. That is unfortunate indeed.

The man’s behavior has been disturbing, and one can understand why a judge would be tempted to forbid him from posting “in any manner that expresses, implies, or suggests” that the women in question had engaged in wrongdoing.

In fact, Justice Michael Donnelly was sympathetic with the attempt to protect the women’s feelings.

But protecting our First Amendment freedoms is more important.

“The means chosen to provide that relief — with its virtually unlimited restraint on the content of future postings about appellees — went far beyond anything that the factual record before us can sustain and the First Amendment can tolerate,” Donnelly said.

High court justices are well aware that the freedom to make comments is no safeguard against being sued for libel or slander if what is said is false and causes significant damage to a person’s reputation, of course.

Perhaps the online poster in the case should bear that in mind.

Still, bravo to the Ohio Supreme Court for getting this one right and rejecting what would have amounted to unconstitutional government censorship of free speech.

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