ACLU History: Freedom for the Thought We Hate

Following the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany in 1933, numerous American fascist paramilitary groups emerged in the United States. With names such as the Silver Shirts and the German American Bund, they wore uniforms, engaged in military exercises, and held public rallies in major cities.

The emergence of these self-styled fascist groups raised the issue of whether the First Amendment protected hate speech. The ACLU concluded that, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, defending 'freedom for the thought we hate' is not only necessary but vital to upholding the principles of the First Amendment. The ACLU has held to that position ever since, most notably in a 1978 case involving the right of neo-Nazis to march through the town of Skokie, Illinois.


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