Nazi Group Requests Skokie Demonstration Permit; National Controversy Erupts
A national controversy over the First Amendment and hate speech began on this day when a Nazi group requested a permit for a demonstration in the heavily Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois (40,500 of the 70,000 residents were Jewish). The ACLU agreed to defend the group’s free speech rights. Frank Collin, leader of a small American Nazi group, requested a permit for a demonstration in a number of Chicago-area communities, including Skokie. Skokie was a predominantly Jewish community, with many Holocaust survivors as residents. The Board of Commissioners of the Skokie Park District sought to prevent the demonstration with a set of restrictive requirements. The ordinances required permit seekers to secure $300,000 in liability insurance and $50,000 in property damage insurance; prohibited the dissemination of literature designed to incite racial or religious hatred; and prohibited demonstrations by groups wearing military-style uniforms.
The case raised fundamental issues over whether the First Amendment protected hate speech and the advocacy of genocide. After a complicated set of legal maneuvers, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of the Nazi group to demonstrate in Skokie on May 22, 1978, declaring the Skokie ordinances unconstitutional. In the end, however, the group chose not to demonstrate in Skokie, and instead held a short but turbulent demonstration in the Marquette Park area of Chicago on July 9, 1978.
The issue of the free speech rights of Nazis first arose in the 1930s, following the rise of Hitler in Germany and the resulting spread of pro-Nazi militaristic groups in the U.S. The ACLU confronted the issue and, on April 30, 1934, developed a police holding that the First Amendment did protect the First Amendment rights of Nazi groups. On December 5, 1941, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a state “race hate” law directed at Nazi groups.
Read: Philippa Strum, When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate (1999)
Watch then-ACLU Diretor Aryeh Neier discuss the Skokie controversy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhsF8uouU6c
Learn more at a timeline on the Skokie free speech controversy: http://www.skokiehistory.info/chrono/nazis.html
Read: Samuel Walker, Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy (1994)