1938 November 19

ACLU to Aid Nazi Groups on First Amendment Rights


The German American Bund, which professed loyalty to Germany but was not overtly a Nazi group, came under attack in the U.S. in the late 1930s as a hate group. A permit for a meeting in Mineola, New York on Long Island was revoked, and on this day the ACLU pledged to defend the Bund’s free speech rights.

This and related cases in the late 1930s formed an early chapter in the history of the hate speech controversy in America. On April 30, 1934, the ACLU debated the issue and adopted a policy that it would defend the free speech and assembly rights of Nazis and other groups professing hatred. On December 5, 1941, in an ACLU case, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared a state “race hatred” law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

In the 1970s a national controversy erupted when an American Nazi group requested a permit, on October 4, 1976, to hold a demonstration in the heavily Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois, and the ACLU agreed to defend their First Amendment Rights. After much litigation, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, on May 22, 1978, upheld the Nazi group’s First Amendment rights.

Watch American Nazis in the 1930s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wom2e-V0Oz8

Read: Samuel Walker, Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy (1994)

Read about the 1970s Skokie controversy: Philippa Strum, When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Thought We Hate (1999)

Learn more at a timeline on the Skokie free speech controversyhttp://www.skokie.lib.il.us/s_info/in_biography/attempted_march/index.asp

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