Last updated on: 5/17/2021 | Author:

Should the ACLU Defend Free Speech Rights of White Supremacists?

PRO (yes)


Anthony D. Romero, JD, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, as quoted in an Aug. 17, 2017 article by Matt Pearce, “Tensions Grow inside ACLU over Defending Free-Speech Rights for the Far Right,” available at, stated:

“The 1st Amendment absolutely does not protect white supremacists seeking to incite or engage in violence. We condemn the views of white supremacists, and fight against them every day. At the same time, we believe that even odious hate speech, with which we vehemently disagree, garners the protection of the 1st Amendment when expressed non-violently. We make decisions on whom we’ll represent and in what context on a case-by-case basis. The horrible events in Charlottesville last weekend will certainly inform those decisions going forward.”

[Editor’s Note: The national ACLU also stated it would no longer defend organizations that wished to protest or demonstrate while carrying guns.] Aug. 17, 2017


Glenn Greenwald, JD, former lawyer and Cofounding Editor of The Intercept, in an Aug. 13, 2017 article for titled “The Misguided Attacks on ACLU for Defending Neo-Nazis’ Free Speech Rights in Charlottesville,” wrote:

“If the ACLU allows the state to suppress the free speech rights of white nationalists or neo-Nazi groups – by refusing to defend such groups when the state tries to censor them or by allowing them to have inadequate representation – then the ACLU’s ability to defend the free speech rights of groups and people that you like will be severely compromised…

The ACLU is not defending white supremacist groups but instead is defending a principle – one that it must defend if it is going to be successful in defending free speech rights for people you support.”

Aug. 13, 2017


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its Oct. 31, 2005 paper titled “Freedom of Expression,” stated:

“The ACLU has often been at the center of controversy for defending the free speech rights of groups that spew hate, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment. History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are ‘indivisible.'”

Oct. 31, 2005


Julian Bond, Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was quoted in the 1998 book Defending Everybody – A History of the American Civil Liberties Union, written by Diane Grey, as having said:

“When you hear about the ACLU defending these horrific people, you react with revulsion. The Klan, Nazis, who knows what. Awful, awful people. But then you think about it, and you say, ‘Is this the right of the Nazis to march in Skokie or is this the rights of unpopular people to march in an area where they’re terrifically unpopular?’ And if you look at it that way then you have to stand with the ACLU.”


CON (no)


Noah Berlatsky, MA, contributing writer for The Atlantic in an Aug. 15, 2017 article for titled “The Case Against Free Speech for Fascists,” wrote:

“For people who see themselves as anti-racists and anti-fascists first… the insistence that free speech will save us all rings somewhat hollow after this weekend [Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville, Aug. 2017]. Given limited energy and resources, maybe [the ACLU] 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 [such as the ACLU] 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.”

Aug. 15, 2017


Philip E. Freedman, PhD, former Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, wrote the Apr. 16, 1978 article “Visit Auschwitz First,” in the Chicago Sun-Times, that stated:

“I had taken a very academic stand on the Nazi march in Skokie. As long as no violence occurred, an American Civil Liberties Union contributor such as myself could take no stand other than to encourage the use of freedoms to which we subscribe. Now that I have returned, I have undergone a change. I have visited Auschwitz…

If you ask me now, ‘Should the American Nazi Party march in Skokie?’ my response is, ‘Never.’ If a group of distorted individuals want to walk around with signs saying that they hate Jews and blacks, such is their right. But if they flaunt the symbol that has been associated with the vile and inhumane acts to which Auschwitz stands witness, they are advocating the violation of humanity, and the violation of humanity should have no protection in any city, state or nation in the world.”

Apr. 16, 1978


Abba P. Lerner, PhD, former Professor of Economics at Florida State University, wrote a Mar. 20, 1978 letter to the New York Times, which stated:

“The intention of the ACLU is noble but the understanding of their duty is faulty…

It is true that unpopular as well as popular speech must be kept free, but it is not the unpopularity of Nazism that deprives Nazis of their free speech rights. It is their opposition to that right for all and their intention to destroy it that makes it monstrously impertinent for them to claim it. It is a grievous mistake for the ACLU to accept Nazism as merely another unpopular point of view to be defended against prejudice and intolerance.”

Mar. 20, 1978


William A. Donohue, PhD, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, was quoted in the 1998 book Defending Everybody – A History of the American Civil Liberties Union, written by Diane Grey, as having said:

“The Nazis are not just an unpopular group. They are urban terrorists. There is a danger in treating them as if they were the Boy Scouts. These are people who have an agenda to subvert the meaning of the First Amendment and they have unwitting accomplices in the American Civil Liberties Union.”