Should the ACLU defend Nazis' right to free speech? | The Tylt
Should the ACLU defend Nazis' right to free speech?
Critics say the ACLU's position on speech is wrong. We should be tolerant of ideas we don't agree with but we should not be tolerant of ideas that are violent. Hate groups like neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are using speech to advocate for the removal of people of color and the destruction of an equal society. These rallies are not meant to be venues to discuss ideas, they're meant to intimidate and attract followers to their destructive ideology. We should recognize their intentions and act accordingly.
The ACLU is right in principle, but wrong in practice. Some ideas just aren't worth discussing. Nazi or Klan members do not actually want to have a genuine discussion about race and the plight of white America. They want to seize power and transform their ideas into reality.
Defending hate speech has a chilling effect. Marginalized groups can be threatened into silence. Hate groups are not truly making a stand for speech—they're using it as a tool to further their goals.
For people who see themselves as anti-racists and anti-fascists first, however, the insistence that free speech will save us all rings somewhat hollow after this weekend. Given limited energy and resources, maybe defending the rights of violent bigots isn’t the noble choice in every case—especially when those bigots predictably use their platform to silence others. Free speech absolutists insist that free speech is the foundation of anti-fascism. But maybe anti-fascism is the basis of true free speech—in which case, defending the speech of bigots can, at least in some cases, leave us all less free.
In the wake of Charlottesville, the ACLU says it will no longer defend hate groups who demonstrate while armed—but will continue defending the right to free speech for hate groups. It's a matter of principle. Weakening the First Amendment in any way will weaken protections for the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Today, the government wants to silence Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan but that won't always be the case. The government has a track record of wanting to stifle dissent—especially viewpoints that are opposed to it. The government should not have that power, period.
We simply never want government to be in a position to favor or disfavor particular viewpoints. And the fact is, government officials — from the local to the national — are more apt to suppress the speech of individuals or groups who disagree with government positions.
Violence isn't a good reason to stifle speech, either. It's a double edged sword. Silencing Nazi speech because of potential violence sounds like a no-brainer. But that logic can be used for any kind of protest. If violence becomes the bar for which we suppress speech, anyone can threaten and incite violence to silence political opponents.
Invoking the threat of violence cannot serve as the government’s carte blanche to shut down protests. If that were the case, governments would almost always be able to shut down protests, even when the protesters themselves are peaceful, because others could exercise a heckler’s veto through violence or the threat of violence. We must not give government officials a free pass to cite public safety as a reason to stifle protest. They have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all protesters and may make their case in court for reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions.