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.
- 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
- Police must act fast to protect First Amendment rights: Robert Shibley - USA TODAY - August 18th, 2017
- Podcast: Trump, Twitter and the First Amendment - Constitution Daily (blog) - August 18th, 2017
- How groups use 'First Amendment' permits for protests at National Parks - ABC10 - August 18th, 2017
- Last weekend's violent protests prompt First Amendment conversation - WBKO - August 18th, 2017
- Between the lines: Cops caught in the First Amendment war zone - Police News - August 18th, 2017
- Theres no hate speech exception to the First Amendment - The ... - August 16th, 2017
- First Amendment banned from DC Metro literally! - Washington Post - August 16th, 2017
- There's No 'Nazi' Exception to the First Amendment - National Review - August 16th, 2017
- FIRST AMENDMENT: How far does it go? - Evening News and Tribune - August 15th, 2017
- Why the First Amendment won't protect Charlottesville white supremacists from being fired - MarketWatch - August 15th, 2017
- The First Amendment on the Grounds in Charlottesville - Lawfare (blog) - August 15th, 2017
- Can a Court Arbitrarily Conclude That 'Security' Overrules the First Amendment? - Reason (blog) - August 15th, 2017
- March on Google: Self-proclaimed 'First Amendment supporters' to ... - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - August 15th, 2017
- Militiamen came to Charlottesville as neutral First Amendment protectors, commander says - Washington Post - August 14th, 2017
- Editorial, 8/13: Court strikes right balance on Westboro ruling - Lincoln Journal Star - August 14th, 2017
- Beyond the First Amendment - Washington Times - August 14th, 2017
- Liberals need to stop messing with the First Amendment - Washington Examiner - August 13th, 2017
- Jeffrey Lord: 'CNN caved on the First Amendment' when it fired him - Fox News - August 13th, 2017
- First Amendment lawsuits pile up against governors who block ... - WJLA - August 13th, 2017
- DC's transit agency rejected ads touting the First Amendment (really) - Ars Technica - August 11th, 2017
- Symposium: A path through the thicket the First Amendment right of association - SCOTUSblog (blog) - August 11th, 2017
- ACLU Sues DC Metro After It Rejects Ad With Text Of 1st Amendment - NPR - August 11th, 2017
- Jeffrey Lord Speaks Out on Firing: 'CNN Caved on the First Amendment' - Mediaite - August 11th, 2017
- Newseum provides first amendment perspective - FederalNewsRadio.com - August 11th, 2017
- The First Amendment (Literally) Banned in DC - ACLU (blog) - August 10th, 2017
- Inside the First Amendment: When leaks dry up, we turn to FOIA ... - Meridian Star - August 10th, 2017
- The Fired Google Engineer, the First Amendment, and the Alt-Right - Xconomy - August 10th, 2017
- The First Amendment won't protect you from saying something your company doesn't like - Marketplace.org - August 9th, 2017
- The First Amendment: Freedom of speech in the workplace - WDAY - August 9th, 2017
- ACLU, Rutherford Institute say permit revocation violates First Amendment - The Charlottesville Newsplex - August 9th, 2017
- No shield needed: The First Amendment works just fine - The Union Leader - August 9th, 2017
- Liberal Students Unite Against First Amendment Rights of Conservatives on 'The Fosters' - NewsBusters (press release) (blog) - August 9th, 2017
- Bill Bennett on Leaker Journalists: First Amendment Not a License to ... - Fox News Insider - August 8th, 2017
- Country Singer Dustin Collins: 'Without the Second Amendment, There Is No First Amendment' (Exclusive) - Breitbart News - August 8th, 2017
- First Amendment: When leaks dry up, we turn to FOIA - hays Post - August 6th, 2017
- Letter: Anti-boycott law violates the First Amendment - Santa Cruz Sentinel - August 6th, 2017
- No Free Speech for You - Slate Magazine - August 5th, 2017
- EDITORIAL: First Amendment 2.0 - Loudoun Times-Mirror - August 5th, 2017
- In 'Direct Attack on the First Amendment,' Sessions Declares War on Leaks - Common Dreams - August 5th, 2017
- McGovern: Free speech may mean free pass for Michelle Carter - Boston Herald - August 4th, 2017
- How the First Amendment could save Don Jr. - The Hill (blog) - August 3rd, 2017
- Police confront 'First Amendment auditors' - Post Register - August 3rd, 2017
- Loudoun County resident's First Amendment case may benefit free-speech group's suit against Trump - Loudoun Times-Mirror - August 3rd, 2017
- Justice Souter, the First Amendment and the case of the synagogue standoff - Reuters - August 3rd, 2017
- RTDNA Joins Free Press Groups in Tracking First Amendment Abuse - Broadcasting & Cable - August 3rd, 2017
- Peter Berger: Students and First Amendment rights - vtdigger.org - August 3rd, 2017
- HiQ v. LinkedIn: Does First Amendment limit application of computer ... - Reuters - August 2nd, 2017
- SMU Becomes the Face of the Collegiate War On The First Amendment - The Hayride - August 2nd, 2017
- Promoting First Amendment censorship - Herald and News - August 2nd, 2017
- Court Rules Randall Violated First Amendment on Facebook - Loudoun Now - August 1st, 2017
- Free Speech & Republicans: First Amendment Trumps Punishing ... - National Review - August 1st, 2017
- The First Amendment: Free press, open meetings laws survive RI State House standoff - The Providence Journal - August 1st, 2017
- Unite the Right rally sparks First Amendment questions - The Daily Progress - August 1st, 2017
- Randy Krehbiel: Lankford says anti-LGBT organization is exercising First Amendment rights - Tulsa World (blog) - August 1st, 2017
- Unite the Right rally sparks First Amendment questions | Virginia ... - Roanoke Times - July 30th, 2017
- To restore First Amendment on campus, open universities to competition - Eagle-Tribune - July 30th, 2017
- Fake news or First Amendment? Defamation trial begins in case of ... - Richmond.com - July 29th, 2017
- President Snowflake could be violating the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter - Death and Taxes - July 29th, 2017
- Big labor bullies First Amendment with Scientology playbook - OCRegister - July 29th, 2017
- Does the campus free speech bill protect First Amendment rights or restrict them? - News & Observer - July 28th, 2017
- Politicians' social media pages can be 1st Amendment forums, judge says - Ars Technica - July 28th, 2017
- LETTER: First Amendment is a one-way protection for religion - The Daily Freeman - July 28th, 2017
- Michael Flores: Attacks on our First Amendment need more attention - Madison.com - July 28th, 2017