1960 June 30

NYCLU to Defend Free Speech Rights of Top American Nazi


The New York Civil Liberties Union, in a free speech fight with the mayor of New York City, agreed to defend a leading American Nazi on this day. Mayor Robert Wagner had denied George Lincoln Rockwell a permit to speak on July 4th, because he feared the speech would provoke a riot. The NYCLU argued that this was not a valid reason for preventing someone from speaking.

The ACLU defended the First Amendment rights of Nazis on many occasions over the years. The ACLU first confronted the question of whether Nazis and their ideology were protected by the First Amendment on April 30, 1934. In the 1930s, the ACLU defended the rights of the German-American Bund, the largest pro-Nazi Germany organization in the country. The most famous case of all began when a small Nazi group requested a permit for a demonstration in the predominantly Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois on October 4, 1976. A national controversy erupted when the ACLU agreed to defend their First Amendment rights. After much legal maneuvering, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the rights of the Nazi group on May 22, 1978.

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

Read: Philippa Strum, When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate (1999)

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