1934 April 30

Free Speech for Nazis? ACLU Says Yes


The rise of domestic Nazi groups in the U.S. forced the ACLU for the first time to confront the question of whether the First Amendment protects racial, ethnic and religious “hate speech.” After extensive deliberations, the ACLU Board of Directors decided on this day that yes, the First Amendment does protect the free speech rights of Nazis and other hate groups. It issued a pamphlet entitled, “Shall We Defend Free Speech for Nazis in America?” A revised and expanded version appeared in 1939 as “Why We Defend Free Speech for Nazis, Fascists – and Communists.” On November 19, 1938, the ACLU announced that it would defend the First Amendment rights of the German-American Bund, the largest pro-Nazi group in the country.

A national controversy erupted in 1976 when the ACLU agreed to defend the free speech rights of a small Nazi group that, on October 4, 1976, requested a permit for a demonstration in the predominantly Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois. After much controversy and legal wrangling, the  Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on May 22, 1978 upheld the First Amendment rights of the Nazi group to hold its demonstration in Skokie.

Watch a documentary on American Nazis in the 1930shttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iw4_xmUgo3w&bpctr=1396635058

Learn more about hate speech: Samuel Walker, Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy (1994)

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