One Man’s Case For Regulating Hate Speech
Frank Collin, head of the National Socialist Party of America, tells the press about his organization’s plans to march in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Ill., on June 22, 1978. The Supreme Court affirmed the neo-Nazi organization’s right to march, but Jeremy Waldron says that’s just the kind of speech the government should be restricting.
Warning: This story contains language that some might find offensive.
In the late ’70s, Skokie, Ill., became the epicenter of the debate over free speech in the U.S. The town was home to many Holocaust survivors, along with their families, and that made it a target for the National Socialist Party of America — a neo-Nazi group from nearby Chicago.
The group planned to march through the heart of Skokie carrying anti-Semitic signs and proclaiming “white power.” At first, Skokie banned the rally, but the Nazis fought the town in court. With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Nazis brought their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which affirmed that, under the First Amendment, they had a right to march.
The case became a landmark, proving that even speech that many Americans find reprehensible is legally protected in the U.S. But a few voices still say the Skokie decision was wrong.
According to New York University law professor Jeremy Waldron, “In terms of the defacing of that social environment, the impact on the people concerned, the sense of terror reawakened by the nightmares that this sort of speech evoked — those concerns, it seemed to me, would have justified very serious restriction.”
In his new book, The Harm in Hate Speech, Waldron calls attention to the fact that the U.S. is the only liberal democracy in the world without some version of hate speech regulation — the kind of regulation that would have stopped the Nazis from marching in Skokie.
“Many of the things that people have a right to do in the United States are wrong,” Waldron tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “They don’t have a right to do everything that’s wrong and I’m arguing that the category of things that they shouldn’t have a right to do should be somewhat expanded.”