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Should the ACLU Defend Free Speech Rights of White Supremacists?



PRO (yes)

Glenn Greenwald, JD, Lawyer and Cofounding Editor of The Intercept, in an Aug. 13, 2017 article for theintercept.com 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 - Glenn Greenwald, JD 



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 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 



Aryeh Neier, JD, former Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in his 1979 book Defending My Enemy:

"Revolutionaries and advocates of destruction attract followers readily when the society they wish to overturn loses legitimacy... They rejoice, as the American Nazis did, when their rights are denied to them; they count on repression to win them sympathizers...

The judges who devoted so much attention to the Nazis, the police departments that paid so much overtime, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which lost a half-million dollars in membership income as a consequence of its defense, used their time and money well. They defeated the Nazis by preserving the legitimacy of American democracy."

1979 - Aryeh Neier 



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."

1998 - Julian Bond 



CON (no)

Noah Berlatsky, MA, contributing writer for The Atlantic in an Aug. 15, 2017 article for qz.com 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 - Noah Berlatsky, MA 



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 - Philip E. Freedman, PhD 



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 - Abba P. Lerner, PhD 



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."

1998 - William A. Donohue, PhD