ACLU legal director explains the need to defend free speech

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has decided, in the wake of the Charlottesville melee, that it will no longer defend protestors who carry weapons. I don’t have any argument with that one, for although open or concealed carry may be legal according to the courts, it’s not a First Amendment right and thus can take lower priority over the many cases where freedom of expression is being suppressed. What did worry me were intimations in the press that the ACLU was rethinking its policy of defending speech in a “neutral” manner; that is, defending speech of all sorts from across the political spectrum, and that includes “hate speech”, such as that promulgated by white supremacists. In other words, there were rumors that the ACLU would ratchet back in defending those promulgating “offensive” speech.

Well, those of us with that worry can rest easy, for the ACLU is not changing its policy. In a new piece in the New York Review of Books, ACLU legal director David Cole—also a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University—explains “Why we must still defend free speech.”

First the bad news: a lot of younger folk don’t respect the First Amendment:

The future of the First Amendment may be at issue. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 40 percent of millennials think the government should be able to suppress speech deemed offensive to minority groups, as compared to only 12 percent of those born between 1928 and 1945. Young people today voice far less faith in free speech than do their grandparents. And Europe, where racist speech is not protected, has shown that democracies can reasonably differ about this issue.

Well, democracies can and do differ, but not “reasonably”. There’s a very palpable downside to prohibiting racist or offensive speech—one described by Mill in On Liberty. If we don’t even get to hear racist speech or other forms of speech that we see as too odious for any rational person to embrace, then we don’t get to formulate our counterarguments. Indeed, this is happening now in campuses, and is why Ben Shapiro, for instance, is easily able to take down Leftists who hate his conservative message. In response, all they can do is stand up, yell, and sputter, because they’ve never thought about the issues. When Shapiro talks about affirmative action, citing studies and figures, what ammunition do they have in response? None! Further, as the counter-arguments disappear because the speech itself is banned, over generations they’re forgotten.

This is why, for instance, I adamantly favor allowing Holocaust denialists—not allowed to speak in Germany or Canada—to make their case. If they don’t, what evidence do we know of that the Holocaust not only happened, but was part of the Nazi regime’s plan? Saying “it’s obvious” is no argument. What can you say in response to the accurate claim that there is no piece of paper on which Hitler ordered the Endlösung—the Final Solution? There are of course good and decisive responses, but how many of you know them? And this is why hate speech must be allowed. Further, if it’s banned, it doesn’t go away, it just festers underground and never gets a public airing. It is a good thing that Trump’s election emboldened the white supremacists to come out and spout their message, for now we can not only refute them (NOT WITH VIOLENCE!), but see how odious and pathetic they really are. I see no reason for any democracy to have laws against offensive speech.

As I’m leaving soon to have FUN, I’ll simply give a few excerpts from Cole’s admirable piece, which should stand as the last word on why the ACLU should keep doing what it’s doing. Cole’s words are indented.

On not defending armed protestors.

What about speech and weapons? The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, explained that, in light of Charlottesville and the risk of violence at future protests, the ACLU will not represent marchers who seek to brandish weapons while protesting. (This is not a new position. In a pamphlet signed by Roger Baldwin, Arthur Garfield Hays, Morris Ernst, and others, the ACLU took a similar stance in 1934, explaining that we defended the Nazis’ right to speak, but not to march while armed.) This is a content-neutral policy; it applies to all armed marchers, regardless of their views. And it is driven by the twin concerns of avoiding violence and the impairment of many rights, speech included, that violence so often occasions. Free speech allows us to resolve our differences through public reason; violence is its antithesis. The First Amendment protects the exchange of views, not the exchange of bullets. Just as it is reasonable to exclude weapons from courthouses, airports, schools, and Fourth of July celebrations on the National Mall, so it is reasonable to exclude them from public protests.

On why the ACLU should defend “hate groups” and offensive speech rather than concentrating exclusively on oppressed minorities.  

The argument that free speech should not be protected in conditions of inequality is misguided. The right to free speech does not rest on the presumption of a level playing field. Virtually all rights—speech included—are enjoyed unequally, and can reinforce inequality. The right to property most obviously protects the billionaire more than it does the poor. Homeowners have greater privacy rights than apartment dwellers, who in turn have more privacy than the homeless. The fundamental right to choose how to educate one’s children means little to parents who cannot afford private schools, and contributes to the resilience of segregated schools and the reproduction of privilege. Criminal defendants’ rights are enjoyed much more robustly by those who can afford to hire an expensive lawyer than by those dependent on the meager resources that states dedicate to the defense of the indigent, thereby contributing to the endemic disparities that plague our criminal justice system.

Critics argue that the First Amendment is different, because if the weak are silenced while the strong speak, or if some have more to spend on speech than others, the outcomes of the “marketplace of ideas” will be skewed. But the marketplace is a metaphor; it describes not a scientific method for identifying truth but a choice among realistic options. It maintains only that it is better for the state to remain neutral than to dictate what is true and suppress the rest. One can be justifiably skeptical of a debate in which Charles Koch or George Soros has outsized advantages over everyone else, but still prefer it to one in which the Trump—or indeed Obama—administration can control what can be said. If free speech is critical to democracy and to holding our representatives accountable—and it is—we cannot allow our representatives to suppress views they think are wrong, false, or disruptive.

Should our nation’s shameful history of racism change the equation? There is no doubt that African-Americans have suffered unique mistreatment, and that our country has yet to reckon adequately with that fact. But to treat speech targeting African-Americans differently from speech targeting anyone else cannot be squared with the first principle of free speech: the state must be neutral with regard to speakers’ viewpoints. Moreover, what about other groups? While each group’s experiences are distinct, many have suffered grave discrimination, including Native Americans, Asian-Americans, LGBT people, women, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, and immigrants generally. Should government officials be free to censor speech that offends or targets any of these groups? If not all, which groups get special protection?

And even if we could somehow answer that question, how would we define what speech to suppress? Should the government be able to silence all arguments against affirmative action or about genetic differences between men and women, or just uneducated racist and sexist rants? It is easy to recognize inequality; it is virtually impossible to articulate a standard for suppression of speech that would not afford government officials dangerously broad discretion and invite discrimination against particular viewpoints.

This last argument is dispositive. It’s not just Nazi speech that some find “hateful” and want to suppress: all manner of views can and have been deemed odious and worthy of censorship. Those include affirmative action, claims about genetic differences between sexes and groups (remember Charles Murray at Middlebury State?), and, of course, criticism of Islam, which has gotten people murdered in the West. This is truly a slippery slope and not a bogus one. The best solution is, I think, the one the U.S. courts have hit on: all speech is permissible so long as it’s not defamatory, does not involving harassing individuals in the workplace, and does not incite imminent violence. Which brings us to the last issue:

On why free speech can call for non-imminent violence.

Some white supremacists advocate not only hate but violence. They want to purge the country of nonwhites, non-Christians, and other “undesirables,” and return us to a racial caste society—and the only way to do that is through force. The First Amendment protects speech but not violence. So what possible value is there in protecting speech advocating violence? Our history illustrates that unless very narrowly constrained, the power to restrict the advocacy of violence is an invitation to punish political dissent. A. Mitchell Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover, and Joseph McCarthy all used the advocacy of violence as a justification to punish people who associated with Communists, socialists, or civil rights groups.

Those lessons led the Supreme Court, in a 1969 ACLU case involving a Ku Klux Klan rally, to rule that speech advocating violence or other criminal conduct is protected unless it is intended and likely to produce imminent lawless action, a highly speech-protective rule. In addition to incitement, thus narrowly defined, a “true threat” against specific individuals is also not protected. But aside from these instances in which speech and violence are inextricably intertwined, speech advocating violence gets full First Amendment protection.

In Charlottesville, the ACLU’s client swore under oath that he intended only a peaceful protest. The city cited general concerns about managing the crowd in seeking to move the marchers a mile from the originally approved site. But as the district court found, the city offered no reason why there wouldn’t be just as many protesters and counterprotesters at the alternative site. Violence did break out in Charlottesville, but that appears to have been at least in part because the police utterly failed to keep the protesters separated or to break up the fights.

I remain proud of the ACLU—far prouder than I am of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is now demonizing true reformers.

h/t: Mizrob


  1. yazikus
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Has the SPLC apologized to Maajid yet?

    I quite enjoyed the Opening Arguments podcast on this particular issue. They break down the ‘imminent’ issue rather nicely.

    • ploubere
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      I emailed SPLC a while ago asking them to justify their position on Maajid. They never responded.

      • Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Why would they? It’s a conspiracy. It can’t be justify

        • ploubere
          Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          I think it’s more likely that they don’t care about losing my meager $40 donations.

          • yazikus
            Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

            They should. I still don’t know what they were thinking, his inclusion on that list was monumentally stupid.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        I think it got to the point where they stopped responding to complaints about this. I complained very early on and got a response (it’s reproduced on my website), and others who complained early got responses too.

        The response though didn’t do much to address concerns. It was little more than a pro forma email.

        They stopped responding, including to a follow up from me, fairly quickly. It appears they were inundated by complaints about the inclusion of Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and chose to ignore them.

        Around the same time they removed Dr Ben Carson from a list of hate speakers following political pressure.

    • Taz
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I believe he’s suing them.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, he is.

        • Posted August 30, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

          As much as I disagree with the SPLC and I support and admire Maajid Nawaz, I think the lawsuit is a mistake. Isn’t this also a free speech issue? Don’t they have the right to call anyone they want an “extremist?” I just don’t think a lawsuit was the way to go here.

          • Posted August 30, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            I — somewhat reluctantly — agree with you (the SPLC were 100% in the wrong, but are entitled to hold and express 100% wrong opinions).

            • Posted August 30, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

              They are entitled to hold those opinions just as Nawaz is entitled to seek redress for libel.

              Libel is one form of restriction on 1st amendment rights that I think most approve of, if handled with due process. It is necessarily a high bar but it is a bar that is necessary. If SPLC’s opinion of Nawaz amounts to libel (and I believe it may), they ought to be held accountable.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

            I think it reflects the different way the British see things like this. For Nawaz, this isn’t about their right to free speech, it’s about defaming him. Also, they have made his dangerous life even more dangerous. He gets a lot of death threats, and these have apparently increased since the SPLC listing.

  2. ploubere
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    It’s distressing to see that Pew poll result. My sense is that most of those on the left who approve of punching Nazis are also in that age group. One can only hope they’ll grow out of such attitudes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      That’s my hope, too. I doubt there were just 12% of that oldest cohort in favor of blacklists for communists, and opposed to free speech for Nazis, back in their youth. If so, we wouldn’t have had McCarthyism or the efforts to no-platform George Lincoln Rockwell.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I think too many don’t understand why absolute freedom of speech is so important. They’ve never thought it through for themselves, or had it explained to them. They think that they’re being supportive of equality by taking that position, and don’t understand the principles that undergird true equality.

  3. darrelle
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Regarding the poll results, what they don’t show but seems relevant is, do the youth of the present differ significantly with the youth of earlier generations regarding government suppression of free speech? There probably isn’t any data, or not enough, to make that comparison. But this difference could be more of an age thing than a generational thing. Youth are impetuous and know everything already. With age comes more experience of bad shit.

    • yazikus
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I was wondering the same. I remember listening to a terrorism expert on NPR a few years ago who had reviewed significant amounts of data on what sort of person could be radicalized. Age was the strongest correlating factor.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I recall the same from reading about a study on terrorism. Perhaps by the same person? It certainly makes sense to me.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          Makes sense to me too.

          Add to that our brains don’t finish growing until age 26. Before that there’s also a physical limitation in the ability to reason.

          • yazikus
            Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

            I had heard it could be even later than that, def. late twenties. We should be seriously considering how this could affect things like enlistment in the military, criminal behavior, etc. Their brains just aren’t done cooking yet!

          • Craw
            Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            An important point that gets missed a lot.

          • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            Depends on what you mean by, “growth.” Our brains (and everything else in existence) are in constant change, not only up until the moment of death but well past.

            And I for one know that, just in the past year or three, I myself have matured a fair amount — and I’m old enough to have 26-year-old children.

            It’s certainly statistically true that the pace of change slows down with age…but that’s a very broad-brush picture. Indeed, ask most 80-year-olds how much they’re actually like what their 70-year-old selves thought they’d be like, and they’ll tell you that a lot more has changed than they expected.




            • yazikus
              Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              Frontal lobe development (and risk/benefit analysis) in particular.

            • Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              “Our brains (and everything else in existence) are in constant change, not only up until the moment of death but well past.



              • Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                Compare the brain of somebody minutes before death with that same person’s brain minutes after death, and there’s perhaps the most significant and dramatic change of that person’s existence. The changes to the brain in the hours and days that follow are even more significant and dramatic still, including everything from bacterial rot to immolation. Wait long enough, and what’s left of the brain will be completely dispersed and reincorporated into the rest of the environment. Wait uncountable trillions of years more, and even the atoms themselves that used to constitute the brain will themselves have decayed.

                When you put the brain (and the rest of the body) in such a context, it becomes inescapable that it’s the product of the brain, the mind, that we associate with personhood. When the brain stops creating the mind, the person ceases to exist.

                But when you start investigating how the brain creates the mind…well, that’s when you start to understand that the mind itself is far, far less substantial than our minds would have use believe. Where is the rainbow to be found in the droplets of water? There, too, you will find the self.




            • Heather Hastie
              Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, there’s also growth from maturity and experience, which is a different thing, and also very important.

              • Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                True, but it’s important to understand that the brain creates the mind — not the other way ’round — and, therefore, all mental changes have very real physical underpinnings.

                Change for the first quarter century or so is much more dramatic at large scales than for the rest of a typical life and is driven largely by the genetic development program.

                But even subtle changes late in life, such as a reversal of a preference for apricot jam over peach jam, are the result of physical changes in the brain. Maybe the proximate source for the change was a brief idle conversation with a friend rather than genetic hormonal development, but it’s still physical brain changes.

                After all, there’s the famous case of Phinneas Gage, not to mention alcohol — both instances of gross physical change causing gross mental change. And modern cognitive neuroscience has come a long way in terms of imaging brain changes in real time and correlating them with changes in mental state.




  4. Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  5. DrBrydon
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Good for the ACLU. They have had my support since they supported the Nazis right to march in Skokie. What advocates of censorship never seem to consider is that once you admit the principle, it is merely a majority decision regarding what is censored. Once you start, there are always more things that are Bad. Today it’s violence in cartoons, tomorrow it’s David’s weenie.

    • George
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, the ACLU lost a lot of support after defending the Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie back in 1977. Skokie is a northern suburb of Chicago which at that time was largely Jewish – at one time 58%. The Jewish population of Skokie has since declined. It is now about a quarter Asian.

      The American Nazi Party was led by Frank Collin. Turns out Collin was originally Cohn or Cohen – his father was Jewish. He went to jail for molesting young boys.

      It is hard to express how much pressure the ACLU faced from donors and members. The two lawyers who worked on the case, Burton Joseph and David Goldberger, were both Jewish. But they stuck to their guns and principles – all the way to SCOTUS. The Nazis won their case, elected to march in Chicago instead of Skokie and were outnumbered about a thousand to one. They eventually skulked away.

      I was worried that the ACLU had lost its nerve. I am happy to see that they have not. For fun (although in bad taste – especially after Charlottesville), the Blues Brothers take on the Nazis –

      And of course a Downfall parody where Hitler finds out that the Blues Brothers got away –

  6. Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The future of the First Amendment may be at issue. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 40 percent of millennials think the government should be able to suppress speech deemed offensive to minority groups,

    Presumably these idiots assumed Obama would be in power forever.

    Maybe they should be polled again: ‘Do you think your speech should be policed by a government run by raving lunatic?’

    • Craw
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      “OH NO! Trump is president!”
      “I know. What should we do?”
      “Quick, give him more power!”

  7. Craw
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “Young people today voice far less faith in free speech than do their grandparents. ”

    This is natural. The oldsters don’t understand the threat. They only had to deal with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, McCarthy. Millennials are confronted by the horrors of disrespectful sushi.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Not to mention anti-war agitation, obscenity laws, blasphemy laws, and the legalization of abortion. Remember the days when the Postmaster could decide what went through the mails? Good times.

  8. Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Those are masterful arguments for unfettered free speech by the ACLU.

  9. Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The Antifa crowd are a bunch of clueless idiots being wantonly destructive to their own professed cause.

    Punch a Nazi, sure. But the Nazi probably brought a gun to your fistfight. So skip the sucker punch. How ’bout a nice backpack with a pressure cooker bomb? Or you could hide in the trunk of your car with a sniper rifle. That’ll stop the Nazis, right?

    Congratulations. You’re now a domestic terrorist, and the Nazis are righteous self-defending victims of terrorism. And you’re probably not of pure Aryan blood, providing a perfect propaganda coup to them demonstrating that mudbloods are vicious louts who can’t be trusted with sharp objects and aren’t good for much anything other than menial labor.

    Goebbels himself couldn’t have scripted a better pro-Nazi publicity stunt.

    Dr. King must be rolling in his grave. He brilliantly showed the world how the only “weapon” you need is the courage of your convictions to link arms with your brethren. You will be beaten and bloodied, yes — but no more so than if you heft a sword. The difference is that King’s way preserves your honor and dignity and it works; the Antifa’s Nazi-style terrorism sells your soul to the Devil and fails abysmally.



    • darrelle
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Well said Ben.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes. What I was going to say. I’ll say it anyway: Well said Ben.

    • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Right on, Ben!

  10. Randy schenck
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I would have to go one step further than the ACLU in stating they will not defend weaponized demonstrators. If you show up with weapons at a protest or demonstration you may lose your right to demonstrate. Regardless of the misinterpreted second amendment, your rights to those weapons do not include the right to demonstrate with them. Allowing loaded weapons inside the city limits boarders on insanity.

  11. Jake Sevins
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: I have long been a supporter of the ACLU, but their recent position “standing with Linda Sarsour” is troubling. Sarsour has said many troubling things, including seemingly advocating for Sharia, encouraging violence against Israel, and saying deplorable things about Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’d love to continue donating to the ACLU but I truly wish they’d reconsider standing with an uncloseted Islamist.

    • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Standing for her right to speak in the USA is virtually the identical case to what their statement related in Jerry’s post deals with.

      I can’t stand her either; but she does have the right to speak in the USA. And so do her critics.

      • Craw
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that’s the complaint. The ACLU announced they “stand with” and put her on their magazine absent a case where she was being censored. I think that is right. So it’s not a case of defending her right to speak. The complaint is the ACLU just sua sponte decided to endorse her.

        • Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          There’s PR and then there is Legal. PR manages social media and removes offensive pictures of white children with flags. Legal defends the rights of horrible people so that non-horrible people can maintain the same rights. I’m sure the support of Sarsour is likely a PR decision that not everyone in the organization agrees with.

          • Jake Sevins
            Posted August 30, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for filling us in on the internal organization of the ACLU. However, if the PR department wants to represent the organization as aligning with such a hateful person, it reflects on the ACLU as a whole, in my opinion. Sarsour said Ayaan doesn’t deserve to be a woman and wishes she could take Ayaan’s vagina away. (This is particularly appalling given that Ayaan is already an FGM victim.) The ACLU proudly stands with this person? No thanks.

        • Posted August 30, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          OK, then I was uninformed about that. If that’s really the case, then I think it’s wrong.

          I just looked at their tw**t and the linked article. It does seem a bit of a white-wash.

    • Harrison
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      It’s more disconcerting for the SPLC to side with Sarsour, since she’s an open and unabashed fangirl of the Nation of Islam, which the SPLC lists as a hate group. So there’s a clear conflict of interests there.

  12. Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    When the right gets their way and “Black Lives Matter” becomes hate speech and protesters become terrorists, I’m pretty sure millennials will change their tune and start begging for protection.

    Just because it’s “obvious” doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone. Our government is not being run by an administration that you want to have mediating the definition of “hate speech”.

    Hitler was not a highly controversial figure among Germans in the early 20th century. He just wanted to Make Germany Great Again and get rid of an easy scapegoat that he, among many others, despised. While it’s great that everyone hates Nazi’s and wants to protest their marches, because that’s such a morally difficult position, maybe a few people should be paying attention to ICE detention centers and things that are happening behind the scenes. For every ten outraged news articles about Nazis and Trump’s golf habit there is one that slips by about the dismantling of programs and the Orwellian erasure of “Climate Change” from our scientific organizations and studies pushed through by the new EPA (Environmental Perversion Agency) promoting coal in weak attempts to push Trump’s cronies’ agendas.

    • Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Hitler was a controversial figure in Germany. Many were against him. He himself profusely complains of them in “Mein Kampf”. But his opponents were defeated, because they were peaceful or not sufficiently violent, and the authorities were impotent.

  13. rickflick
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I too was confused when I first heard the ACLU was rethinking who it would defend. Good to hear they have held to the main principle.

    The younger generations of liberals, I think, have been so sensitized by the evils of racism that they now overreact and think you shouldn’t even speak about prejudice, bias, or other wicked ideas. I think we elders probably have more faith in the ultimate triumph of truth – however, we could be wrong.

  14. Posted August 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I believe in free speech, no matter how ignorant and hateful, for these very reasons. I don’t think it’s millennials. Millennials are always blamed, I could be wrong since I’m towards the older of the millennials but I think this may be more of a Generation Z issue.

  15. nicky
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m still struggling with ‘imminent threat of violence ‘. How imminent is imminent.
    “Death to Those who mock Islam” comes pretty close, especially since we know these are not empty threats.
    “They are cockroaches, and what do we do with cockroaches?” We all know to what that has lead.
    “Untermensch”, any takers?
    I also note that our host’s Roolz -and justly so- do not tolerate even indirect incitement to violence. Of course, a website is not society, but it is part of it.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted September 3, 2017 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      This is late, but I have been busy.

      First of all, thank you to PCC for printing this very eloquent, thoughtful and reasonable piece in the USA. I notice that in part the present ideal derives from historical circumstances in America, in particular the abuse of ‘advocacy of violence’ by Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts; so that the First Amendment can be seen to be not some sort of theological imperative, as many of its defenders seem to regard it, but as something that has come to be supported as a just and feasible way of dealing with the problem of free speech in an imperfect but (so far) pretty robust democracy. For in the end free speech depends on there being a stable and democratic polity. That is to say, something like the First Amendment is a historical achievement – one that has been won through a historical struggle, and is not something that emerged all of a sudden from nowhere. Something like the First Amendment would unfortunately be impossible in many countries – not necessarily because they are dictatorships but simply because there is no stable polity.

      But hate-speech does provide a soil in which violence breeds, as you can see from the pogroms now going in Burma against a Muslim minority, as well as from the recent terrorism in Barcelona, where some young men were ‘radicalised’ by some imam (Britain has had its troubles with certain imams who were given political asylum and then started preaching against the ‘kuffar’), and the question ‘nicky’ raises is surely a valid one. And when one thinks of the madrassas funded by the Saudis that have been built in Indonesia, Bosnia, etc, and where young and impressionable people are being and are going to be inculcated with hatred of the ‘kuffar’…

      Anyway, I am very glad that the director of ACLU has shown how COMPLEX the matter is. One irritant in the discussion so far has been the simplicity of the taking sides.

      ‘This is why, for instance, I adamantly favor allowing Holocaust denialists—not allowed to speak in Germany or Canada—to make their case. If they don’t, what evidence do we know of that the Holocaust not only happened, but was part of the Nazi regime’s plan?’

      I have to say in response to this that historians like Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Richard Evans have shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Nazis planned the killing of the Jews and other ‘races’ deemed inferior. Denying the Holocaust and the complicity of the Nazi leadership in it is rather like A.N. Wilson pretending that Darwin’s theory is not scientific. I can perfectly understand no-one wanting to give someone like David Irving a platform to spread his poisonous nonsense, and had David Irving been peddling his nonsense immediately after the war, when Germany was in chaos, I can quite see why the authorities, Allied and German, would want to keep and his ideas out of Germany. Now that Germany is also a pretty stable democracy, there certainly seems to be no reason to block him. Though interested Germans can surely simply buy his books on-line (though I wonder if they can from Amazon).

      • Tim Harris
        Posted September 3, 2017 at 2:34 am | Permalink

        ‘piece on free speech in the USA’

  16. Diane G.
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:55 pm | Permalink


  17. Brewbacker
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Holocaust denial is not illegal in Canada. It hasn’t been for decades.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It was in 1988 when Zundel was convicted for it in Canada. And Canada still has laws on the books against “hate speech,” which have been used in other countries to censor Holocaust denialism. If the Canadian courts have explicitly ruled that Holocaust denial is not illegal, please point me to the decisions. I’m willing, of course, to be corrected!

      • Brewbacker
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        You seem to have the burden of proof backwards…. You’re the one claiming it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust in Canada… Shouldn’t the burden be on you to cite the law that outlaws it?

        As I said, it has not been illegal in decades. In fact, Holocaust denial has never been explicitly illegal in Canada. Ernst Zundel was convicted in 1988 (as I said, “decades ago”) for publishing fake news, and his conviction was overturned in 1992, in a Supreme Court ruling that found that it was unconstitutional to outlaw the publishing of fake news.

        Theoretically, one could be convicted for Holocaust denial under Canada’s “hate speech” rules, but to my knowledge, this has never been done. In fact, Ernst Zundel published Holocaust denial material in Canada for many years after the ruling against him was overturned. Without legal consequence. (The reason he was forced to leave Canada was because he was attempting to illegally claim right to reentry after he left the country and his immigrant status had lapsed.)

        To give another example, Malcolm Ross was a schoolteacher who was fired for Holocaust denial. He was not tried or imprisoned for a crime; he was merely fired.

        Doug Collins had human rights complaints filed against him for Holocaust denial. They were dismissed.

        Inciting hatred *is* illegal in Canada. For example, see R v Keegstra, where a conviction was upheld. However, this was not merely Holocaust denial; the man actively promoted anti-Semitism.

        Holocaust denial is not illegal in Canada.

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