Why We Must Defend Free Speech

Does the First Amendment need a rewrite in the era of Donald Trump? Should the rise of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups lead us to cut back the protection afforded to speech that expresses hatred and advocates violence, or otherwise undermines equality? If free speech exacerbates inequality, why doesn’t equality, also protected by the Constitution, take precedence?

After the tragic violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, these questions take on renewed urgency. Many have asked in particular why the ACLU, of which I am national legal director, represented Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally, in challenging Charlottesville’s last-minute effort to revoke his permit. The city proposed to move his rally a mile from its originally approved site—Emancipation Park, the location of the Robert E. Lee monument whose removal Kessler sought to protest—but offered no reason why the protest would be any easier to manage a mile away. As ACLU offices across the country have done for thousands of marchers for almost a century, the ACLU of Virginia gave Kessler legal help to preserve his permit. Should the fatal violence that followed prompt recalibration of the scope of free speech?

The future of the First Amendment may be at issue. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 40 percent of millennials think the government should be able to suppress speech deemed offensive to minority groups, as compared to only 12 percent of those born between 1928 and 1945. Young people today voice far less faith in free speech than do their grandparents. And Europe, where racist speech is not protected, has shown that democracies can reasonably differ about this issue.

People who oppose the protection of racist speech make several arguments, all ultimately resting on a claim that speech rights conflict with equality, and that equality should prevail in the balance.* They contend that the “marketplace of ideas” assumes a mythical level playing field. If some speakers drown out or silence others, the marketplace cannot function in the interests of all. They argue that the history of mob and state violence targeting African-Americans makes racist speech directed at them especially indefensible. Tolerating such speech reinforces harms that this nation has done to African-Americans from slavery through Jim Crow to today’s de facto segregation, implicit bias, and structural discrimination. And still others argue that while it might have made sense to tolerate Nazis marching in Skokie in 1978, now, when white supremacists have a friend in the president himself, the power and influence they wield justify a different approach.

Read the full article at The New York Review of Books

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Anonymous

You lot must be so confused. I watch the chaos unravel in the United States from the other side of the Atlantic with amusement. There is nothing racist about posting a picture of a white child. By not allowing this, you have stifled free speech through political correctness.

Anonymous

A WHITE person was who was killed after being run down by a car you damn nitwit.

Realz

@Anonymous #2. She was not hit by the car and she died of a heart attack.

Anonymous

What about those who are not acting like fools, who go to work, act intelligently, do tearing things down, looting, harming others, and other dumb to illegal acts. Do we not have a voice, because we do not agree with the insane social behaviors you support. The child, the last straw in what has become a racist attack on whites whose normal day is work, take care of things and do not damage or threaten, at least not yet.

Anonymous

Same old republican comment. You must be talking about neo-nazis and killed a woman and injuring 19+ people. Protesters do work, duh. Are you nuts?

Anonymous

wtf is wrong with you, of course, you have a voice but America is a free country and no one should feel otherwise

Anonymous

But you kowtow to the Twitter mob, if you listen to the mob you clearly can't make rational judgements as proven by your response. A rather embarrassing position from such a supposedly principled organisation or is it an illustration of your underlying politics? The claim that white supremacy is everywhere is beyond alarmist and frankly false.

Anonymous

Taking away free speech is the start of a socialist society. Taking away an opposing view because you don't agree with it doesn't make it any more right than looting someone's shop or store because you didn't like the unpopular person who was elected President. The racial divide will not be healed with quashing freedom of speech. Not every white person is racist, just as every black person isn't racist. I live in a predominately black community in a county that is 85% black. I have seen racism on both sides against all ethnicities, from both sides. The problem is people of all races want to be seen as they are and not judged by the stereotypes perpetrated by racist and separatist groups like the Neo-Nazis, KKK, New Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. The problem is those who have moved beyond this ignorance are too quiet and we need to speak up and drown out the people fueled on anger. Hate has become the rule today and perpetuating hate has become the catalyst of a huge money making endeavor from so-called news channels. I saw the video's from Charlottesville and just as any intelligent person out there can see a group of counter-protestors brought clubs and sticks with them to the protest. They were mutually combative and all should have been arrested. The only perspective shown on the news is the one that is popular and generates ratings. The left, democrat extreme, want a socialist society where everyone is dependent on the government therefore the government owns everything. The right, republican extreme, wants the country ran by an elite wealthy few with the rest of us working to make them richer because there is never enough money or power to satisfy them. It is time for those of us who are down the middle to pull the brakes on this and inject sanity back into our society.

Anonymous

Do you have a point? Do you have a reaction to anything the author said? Do you agree or disagree? Or are you just saying things that you think, hoping somebody cares?

Anonymous

But your not defending speech now. You're defending speech so long as it is not certain groups with certain statements with guns.

you caved. Just like you caved with a stupid picture of a white toddler.

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