6 Quotes: Free speech and the Supreme Court’s ruling in ‘NIFLA v. Becerra’
Religion & Liberty Online

6 Quotes: Free speech and the Supreme Court’s ruling in ‘NIFLA v. Becerra’

Earlier today the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra, one of the most important free speech cases of the year.

Although the case was a challenge to a California law that imposed two different sets of requirements on pro-life pregnancy centers, the ruling issued by the Court has broad implications for the free expression of almost all Americans.

Here are six quotes from the ruling that you should know about.

Justice Thomas: “Although the licensed notice is content-based, the Ninth Circuit did not apply strict scrutiny because it concluded that the notice regulates ‘professional speech.’ But this Court has never recognized ‘professional speech’ as a separate category of speech subject to different rules. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.”

Justice Thomas: “As defined by the courts of appeals, the professional-speech doctrine would cover a wide array of individuals—doctors, lawyers, nurses, physical therapists, truck drivers, bartenders, barbers, and many others. One court of appeals has even applied it to fortune tellers. All that is required to make something a ‘profession,’ according to these courts, is that it involves personalized services and requires a professional license from the State. But that gives the States unfettered power to reduce a group’s First Amendment rights by simply imposing a licensing requirement.”

Justice Thomas: “When the government polices the content of professional speech, it can fail to ‘preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.’ If States could choose the protection that speech receives simply by requiring a license, they would have a powerful tool to impose “invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects.””

Justice Kennedy: “This law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression. For here the State requires primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.”

Justice Kennedy: “The California Legislature included in its official history the congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California’s legacy of “forward thinking.” But it is not forward thinking to force individuals to “be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] fin[d] unacceptable.” (Wooley v. Maynard). It is forward thinking to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders then knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come.”

Justice Kennedy: “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.”



Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).