For all people of good will regardless of party affiliation, race, creed, or color the events that took place thisweekend in Charlottesville were sickening and deeply disturbing.
Several clear themes emerged for me this weekend. And while they are pretty obvious, I thought I would share them with the broader ACLU community, in an effort to give voice to what many of us are feeling and to spark a further discussion that will allow us to move together with greater hope and resolve through what are likely to be troubling days ahead.
While the events of this weekend withwhite supremacists holding lit torches frightened and outraged many Americans, we can never underestimate the impact of these images on African-Americans. Thatrally reflected this nations history of slavery, racial violence, and terrorism, which has left an indelible mark on our democracy to this day. As employees, members, or supporters of an organization dedicated to racial justice, we are all affected. Many of us are even more directly affected because we and our family members are the direct targets of the white supremacists. I know that speech alone has consequences, hurtful and deep, and thats why I believe its important to place the ACLUs representation of white supremacist demonstrators in Virginia in the broader context of the values and principles that have guided this organization for nearly a century.
First, the ACLU unequivocally rejects the ideology of white supremacists and we work actively with all our might to oppose that ideology in diverse communities across the country and to defend the right of all Americans to speak out against those views. By budget allocation, the national ACLUs top issue areas are ending mass incarceration, protecting LGBT rights, and safeguarding immigrants rights, demonstrating our commitment to advancing equality and justice with communities that are often the targets of white supremacists' bigotry and hate.
The ACLU has represented or publicly supported Black Lives Matter activists in First Amendment matters at least five times in recent months. Our work against police agencies surveillance of activists has been frequently in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and American-Muslim organizations and individuals. Weve represented and taken public positions in support of anti-Trump protesters more than five times since the election and represented one of the Standing Rock protesters in a free speech case. The ACLU has also defended the free speech rights of African-American environmental activists in Alabama against a defamation lawsuit brought by the toxic waste-generating corporation they opposed. This is all in the past yearalone.
We are not newcomers to this work. Weve defended individuals targeted for their socialist, anarchist, and communist affiliations, for anti-war speech, and for civil rights activism throughout our history. We have repeatedly defended the free speech rights of day laborers against city ordinances grounded in anti-Latino racism that would have prohibited their expressing their availability for work. The ACLU was founded in 1920 when the attorney general of the United States carried out his Palmer raids to round up immigrants based on their subversive views. And we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the emerging labor movement of the early 20thcentury. The First Amendment freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, and freedom of religionhas always been foundational for our organization.
Second,and more directly related to the events of this weekend, there are important reasons for our long history of defending freedom of speech including speech we abhor. We fundamentally believe that our democracy will be better and stronger for engaging and hearing divergent views. Racism and bigotry will not be eradicated if we merely force them underground. Equality and justice will only be achieved if society looks such bigotry squarely in the eyes and renounces it. Not all speech is morally equivalent, but the airing of hateful speech allows people of good will to confront the implications of such speech and reject bigotry, discrimination and hate. This contestation of values can only happen if the exchange of ideas is out in the open.
Thereis another practical reason that we have defended the free speech rights of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Today, as much as ever, the forces of white supremacy and the forces for equality and justice are locked in fierce battles, not only in Washington but in state houses and city councils around the country. Some government decision-makers are deeply opposed to the speech we support. We simply never want government to be in a position to favor or disfavor particular viewpoints. And the fact is,government officialsfrom the local to the nationalare more apt to suppress the speech of individuals or groups who disagree with government positions. Many of the landmark First Amendment cases, such as NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware and New York Times v. Sullivan, have been fought by African-American civil rights activists. Preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.
Third, the First Amendment cannot be used as sword or shield to justify or rationalize violence. Violenceeven when accompanied by speech does not garner the protection of the First Amendment. It is also true that the airing of ideasno matter how repugnant or loathsomedoes not necessarily lead to violence. The violence of this weekend was not caused by our defense of the First Amendment. The ACLU of Virginia went to court to insist that the First Amendment be appliedneutrally and equally to all protesters. Reasonable members of our community might differ on whether we ought to have brought that case. But I believe that having divergent views within an organization dedicated to freedom of speech is a sign of strength not weakness. I also believe the ACLU of Virginia made the right call here. Some have argued that we should not be putting resources toward anything that could benefit the voices of white supremacy. But we cannot stand by silently as the government repudiates the principles we have fought for and won in the courts when it violates clearly established First Amendment rights.
Invoking the threat of violence cannot serve as the governments 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 hecklers 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 protestersand may make their case in court for reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions. That is what we sought in our lawsuit in Virginia.
Thehard job for us now is to find concrete strategies for healing the divides that were laid bare this weekend. For the broader society, this would require that white supremacy, bigotry, and racism be confronted and rejected. Freedom of speech has to be valued and heralded as the cornerstone of our democratic society. Political leaders must shape the political discourse to underscore what binds us together as people, rather than exploit our differences. And government officials must neutrally apply the First Amendment and ensure the safety of all Americans when they take to the streets to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
For our organization, we must remain focused and vigorous in our defense of civil liberties and civil rights in every community and in every context. Our 97-year history of defending the constitutional rights of all persons even those we disagree withis imbued with a belief that these rights are indeed indivisible, unalienable, and granted to each of us in our democracy. Our job is to turn those promises and aspirations into a reality for all people. And that work has never been more important than now.
- David L. Hudson Jr. | The 'bedrock principle' of the First Amendment - TribDem.com - January 7th, 2020
- Executive Order on Anti-Semitism Could Suppress First-Amendment-Protected Criticism of Israel - Reason - January 7th, 2020
- Pro/Con: Can elected officials block you on social media? Yes, the Constitution can't be applied to private tweets - Duluth News Tribune - January 7th, 2020
- How Fascism Works with Jason Stanley; Plus: How the Supreme Court is Weaponizing the First Amendment - KPFA - 94.1FM - January 7th, 2020
- Five Years Later, We Still Havent Learned from the Charlie Hebdo Massacre - National Review - January 7th, 2020
- Accountability For Constitutional Violations Likely Has To Start With The Trivial - Above the Law - January 7th, 2020
- A Stunning Vote Reversal in a Controversial First Amendment Case - The Atlantic - December 18th, 2019
- Attorney John Borger, 68, longtime legal champion of the media, dies at 68 - Minneapolis Star Tribune - December 18th, 2019
- Did Schiff Poke a Hole in the First Amendment? - The New York Times - December 18th, 2019
- New Leader Of First Amendment Foundation Ready To Tackle Public Records And Fake News - WFSU - December 18th, 2019
- Supreme Court to hear Native American criminal procedure case and First Amendment question for foreign entities - JURIST - December 18th, 2019
- EFF Report Shows FBI Is Failing to Address First Amendment Harms Caused By National Security Letters - EFF - December 18th, 2019
- A Judge Temporarily Protects the NRA's First Amendment Rights - America's 1st Freedom - December 18th, 2019
- 5th Circuit judge has 'judicial change of heart' in case that could chill protests - ABA Journal - December 18th, 2019
- Attacker Causes Epileptic Seizure over the Internet - Security Boulevard - December 18th, 2019
- Trump antisemitism executive order sets up First Amendment battle - The Jerusalem Post - December 11th, 2019
- Religion news, the First Amendment and BBQ: GetReligion will soon have a new home base - GetReligion - December 11th, 2019
- W&M professor's new book examines the First Amendment in the Trump era - WYDaily - December 11th, 2019
- Nelson County board joins dozens of others to become a 2nd Amendment sanctuary - WHSV - December 11th, 2019
- Violent Protests and Free Speech: Whos to Blame for an Officers Injuries? - The New York Times - December 11th, 2019
- Mississippi Public Universities receive recognition for protecting free speech | The University of Southern Mississippi - Southern Miss Now - December 11th, 2019
- If There Are No Obama Judges or Trump Judges, Does the Constitution Permit Delaware to - Justia Verdict - December 11th, 2019
- First Amendment rights in the 2010s - UConn Daily Campus - December 8th, 2019
- State argues there is no First Amendment issue in Michelle Carter case - The Sun Chronicle - December 8th, 2019
- Zick's new book examines the First Amendment in the Trump era - William & Mary News - December 8th, 2019
- First Amendment Loses as Pipeline Industry Scores Another Win in Wisconsin - In These Times - December 8th, 2019
- A Phone-Sex Memoir Tests the Limits of Free Speech Rights - Bloomberg - December 8th, 2019
- Texas wants teacher Georgia Clark reinstated after firing over tweets - The Texas Tribune - December 8th, 2019
- Gun Rights Case Is First Before The Supreme Court In A Decade - NPR - December 8th, 2019
- Curt Levey: Trump impeachment drives Democrats' love of Constitution here's how they really feel - Fox News - December 8th, 2019
- The First Amendment is the First Line of Defense - AmmoLand Shooting Sports News - November 30th, 2019
- Want to protect First Amendment? Then maintain Second Amendment - theday.com - November 30th, 2019
- Inmate video visitation and the First Amendment: 3 landmines to avoid - CorrectionsOne - November 30th, 2019
- The Supreme Court is about to hear its biggest gun-control case in a decade - CNBC - November 30th, 2019
- Free-speech controversies not exclusive to the UI - Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette - November 30th, 2019
- The Race 2020 How terrorism started and how it's evolved Scripps National 9:55 AM, Nov - 10News - November 30th, 2019
- The holiday season is a lot bigger than you think - Herald Palladium - November 30th, 2019
- Ava DuVernay and Netflix Formally Respond to When They See Us Lawsuit, Claim Dialogue Is Protected Under First Amendment - The Root - November 30th, 2019
- Yes, Mr. Pokoski, there really is a Santa Claus(e.) - Seacoastonline.com - November 30th, 2019
- Does the First Amendment Hold at the Border? - The Atlantic - November 25th, 2019
- Nonwhites are the only high school students whose support for First Amendment has fallen: survey - The College Fix - November 25th, 2019
- Artful Teachers Teach First Amendment Thinking - Forbes - November 25th, 2019
- The First Amendment and Government Property: Free Speech Rules (Episode 8) - Reason - November 25th, 2019
- Activists say new harassment law tramples on the first amendment' - WXXI News - November 25th, 2019
- Government Tries to Regulate Drug Prices by Violating the First Amendment - Cato Institute - November 25th, 2019
- Judicial appointment a foe of the First Amendment - Daily American Online - November 25th, 2019
- 'No Safe Spaces' Documentary Warns of Dangers Facing First Amendment Rights in America - Accuracy in Academia - November 25th, 2019
- Indian Constitution: First amendment, and the last - Deccan Herald - November 25th, 2019
- Nobel laureate Smith to speak on boycotts and First Amendment - Columbia Daily Tribune - November 25th, 2019
- Florida Man Friday Saves the First Amendment | VodkaPundit - PJ Media - November 25th, 2019
- BU protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights - Binghamton University Pipe Dream - November 25th, 2019
- Happenings on the Hill - Preston Hollow People - November 25th, 2019
- Governor of Alaska: My state will be the first to comply with SCOTUS' new union ruling. - USA TODAY - November 25th, 2019
- Overington recognizes Edgars with First Amendment Recognition Award - Martinsburg Journal - November 25th, 2019
- Smith County School System sued over first amendment violations, promotion of religion - WBIR.com - November 25th, 2019
- Mary Beth Tinker to high school journalists: It's your job to speak up on behalf of others - Student Press Law Center - November 25th, 2019
- Florida education news: First Amendment rights, flu shots and another superintendents struggles - Tampa Bay Times - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment rights are not a one-way street - The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment conference explored diminishing local news as a 'crisis of democracy' - The Daily Tar Heel - November 16th, 2019
- The 'Evil' First Amendment - The American Conservative - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment website launching by end of November - University Star - November 16th, 2019
- LTTE: We all have business exercising our First Amendment rights - Rocky Mountain Collegian - November 16th, 2019
- Trump Attack on Envoy During Testimony Raises Charges of Witness Intimidation - The New York Times - November 16th, 2019
- Facebook has a political fake news problem. Can we fix it without eroding the First Amendment? - NBC News - October 27th, 2019
- The Panhandling Problem: When public safety clashes with the 1st Amendment - WCJB - October 27th, 2019
- Can a black high school guard be fired for quoting the n-word? | TheHill - The Hill - October 27th, 2019
- The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism, and the Future of Dissent - The Humanist - October 27th, 2019
- Liz Cheney Calls Out Dems' New House Bill Intended to 'Circumvent the First Amendment' - Townhall - October 27th, 2019
- Mitch McConnell slams election-security bill as 'transparent attack on the First Amendment' - The Washington TImes - October 27th, 2019
- Are Corporate Employees Protected by the First Amendment? - IPWatchdog.com - August 25th, 2017
- NAACP asks for meeting with Goodell over Colin Kaepernick's First Amendment rights - CBSSports.com - August 25th, 2017
- The ACLU was practicing a core First Amendment duty - Washington Post - August 25th, 2017
- Letter: The right has hijacked the First Amendment to preach hate ... - INFORUM - August 25th, 2017
- Lawyer who objected to mandatory bar's PAC contribution loses First Amendment appeal - ABA Journal - August 25th, 2017
- LA Times: Restrict the Second Amendment at First Amendment rallies - Hot Air - August 25th, 2017
- Is advocating suicide a crime under the First Amendment? - OUPblog (blog) - August 22nd, 2017
- Letter First Amendment is a fundamental building block of our society - Petoskey News-Review - August 22nd, 2017
- How far do the First Amendment's protections go when it comes to hate speech? - The San Diego Union-Tribune - August 20th, 2017
- First Amendment in Peril? - City Journal - August 20th, 2017
- Letter: Peculiar First Amendment interpretation - MetroWest Daily News - August 20th, 2017