History is the Best Teacher

Why All Free Speech Must be Permitted


As spiteful black-clad protesters hold illogical signs, they chant:

“No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”


I can’t help but question today’s society at hand as I watch these protests-turned-civil war skirmishes. This footage resembles something that would be seen during the Arab Spring, rather than outside American college campuses. These demonstrations exude not only violence, but divisive “us and them” language.


It’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing some type of “Nazi” or any -ism rhetoric in today’s political climate. At this point, the standard discussion is spouting ad hominems with buzzwords. Any opinion dissenting from the mainstream narrative is seen as a threat. It’s illogical groupthink that continues to widen the split in this country.


This split holds true at rallies, especially. Violence seemingly erupt out of nowhere. It’s a conflict of anti-establishment versus anti-establishment. What could come of something like this? That’s difficult to wrap my head around.  The tension at rallies brings to mind a certain political conflict during 1978 in Skokie, Illinois.(3) This conflict was brought about when a group of neo-Nazis wanted to march through a town with a predominantly Jewish population.(4) Keep in mind, these were literal and prejudiced Nazis – not alleged “Nazis”.


They wished to march through a town where ⅙ of the residents were Holocaust survivors.  I’m quite sure that after surviving the Holocaust, and seeing neo-Nazis in full military garb marching down your street would be a true “trigger”. As insensitive as this choice of location was, these fascists wanted to march there regardless. Given how contentious this choice was, public backlash soon followed and individuals in the town attempted to throw a wrench in the plans of the Nazis.


So the case of National Socialist Party v. Skokie was spawned. Frank Collin – the head of the chapter of neo-Nazis concerned – sought help from the ACLU. After some consideration, as well as resignations within the ACLU, they decided to support the inflammatory group. The senior director of the ACLU at the time, Aryeh Neier decided to back the case. To offer some background, Neier is an American Jew who was actually born in a Nazi-occupied Germany. When asked about his decision, he was quoted saying:

“Everybody has a right to express their opinion anywhere in the United States and even if we find the opinion despicable, we’re going to protect their right to express it.”


In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the neo-Nazis should be allowed to march, and that a swastika did not constitute “fighting words”.   The neo-Nazis ended up marching in downtown Chicago park. How ironic, actual fascists were allowed to protest without getting pepper sprayed or having bricks thrown at them. Interesting ruling, especially in a time where historical icons – such as the Confederate flag – are being banned.


Not only is this a testament to the possibility of free speech, but a snapshot of that past showing openness to ideas. Nowadays you would hear the masked son of a professor yell:

“Hate speech!”


I feel that people – especially those who will fight tooth and nail against free speech – could learn a thing or two from this case. This government allows dissenting opinions to be expressed – the exact thing that separates us from an actual fascist dictatorship. To oppress opposing opinions with force is exactly what the Nazi regime did. This intimidation is exactly what makes the “anti-fascists” just ordinary fascists. That America allows people the freedom to speak out peacefully is what makes us so great.


Written by Jackson Voynick

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