Nazis Skip Skokie, Demonstrate in Chicago
A national controversy over hate speech erupted when on October 4, 1976 a small American Nazi group, the National Socialist Party, led by Frank Collin, sought a permit for a demonstration in Skokie, Illinois, a heavily Jewish community. After a protracted legal fight arising from attempts by the Village of Skokie to prevent the demonstration, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, on May 22, 1978, upheld the Nazi’s First Amendment rights to a demonstration permit. (The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, leaving the Seventh Circuit decision standing.) The Nazi group decided not to hold its demonstration in Skokie on this day as scheduled, but instead held a brief but tumultuous demonstration in Marquette Park in Chicago. This demonstration effectively ended the Skokie controversy.
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
Read: Samuel Walker, Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy (1994)
Learn more at a timeline on the Skokie free speech controversy: http://www.skokiehistory.info/chrono/nazis.html
Find original documents on the Skokie affair at the Illinois Digital Archives: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/skokiepo001