1941 December 5

New Jersey “Race Hatred” Law Held Unconstitutional

 

The New Jersey State Supreme Court, on this day, overturned the convictions of nine members of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi group, for making anti-Semitic comments at a Bund meeting. The case, Klapprott v. United States, was the first constitutional test of a 1935 state law that prohibited statements that vilified racial, religious or ethnic groups. The German-American Bund was the largest national organization sympathetic to Nazi Germany in the years leading up to America’s entry into World War II. The Court agreed that race hatred was “revolting,” but that the law violated the free speech clauses of both the New Jersey State Constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The rise of domestic pro-Nazi groups in the 1930s forced the ACLU to consider for the first time whether the First Amendment protected hate speech. In its first policy statement on the subject, the ACLU decided, on April 30, 1934, that it did. The ACLU had decided to assist the German-American Bund over its First Amendment rights on November 19, 1938.

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 the German-American Bund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iw4_xmUgo3w&bpctr=1396635058

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

And about the 1970s Skokie case: Philippa Strum, When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate (1999)

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