Vice president Dick Cheney spoke at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. According to an article on cnn.com, Cheney reminded his audience that the Holocaust did not occur somewhere in obscurity, but “in the heart of the civilized world.” He also said, “The story of the camps shows that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted.”
Meanwhile, according to the Center for Democratic Renewal there are 150,000 to 200,000 hate group sympathizers in America. The American Nazi Party has adopted a highway in Oregon. The sign on the highway says that the highway is adopted by the “American Nazi Party NSM.” The NSM is the National Socialist Movement, another white supremacist group. The Ku Klux Klan adopted a stretch of road in Missouri outside of the small town of Potosi and a KKK auction was held on Jan. 30 in Howell, Michigan.
Knives, robes, books, buttons and other “memorabilia” were sold. According to an Associated Press article, there were about 10 protestors outside holding signs. Nearly 200 people attended.
Local chapters of the NAACP and other groups called the auction “insensitive.”
The U.S. Constitution applies to all American citizens. Free speech applies to all speech, no matter how hateful or ignorant it is.
This is why despite many complaints and public outcries surrounding the adopt-a-highway sign displaying the American Nazi Party, Marion County Officials in Oregon are powerless to take the sign down. We can’t pick and choose what speech the First Amendment protects: it either protects all speech or no speech.
It’s a quagmire that goes back to a Supreme Court ruling in 1942.
According to a Web site designed by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Law School, a Jehovah’s Witness was arrested after calling a cop a “God-Damned racketeer” and “a damned fascist.” The Jehovah’s Witness was convicted and his case for free speech went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
The court ruled that there was a category of “fighting words” that was not protected by the First Amendment: “Those words ‘which by their very utterance inflict injury’ and which ‘are no essential part of any exposition of ideas.'”
In 1992, Justice Antonin Scalia overturned this idea. In Scalia’s opinions, “fighting words” were not wholly outside of First Amendment protection.
In his ruling (R.A.V. v. St. Paul) he said, “We find it unnecessary to consider this issue. Assuming, arguendo [for the sake of argument], that all of the expression reached by the ordinance is proscribable under the ‘fighting words’ doctrine, we nonetheless conclude that the ordinance is facially unconstitutional in that it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses.”
We’re left in a situation where we can’t legally stop hate speech. While the civil rights of the victims are infringed upon, to pass a law prohibiting hate speech would infringe on the civil rights of the offenders.
The Anti-Defamation League suggests that we stop the hate by overwhelming it. For every road the KKK or the American Nazis adopt, the ACLU or the NAACP adopts two. According to an Associated Press article the Missouri legislature renamed the highway adopted by the KKK the “Rosa Parks Highway.”
For every hate group rally held, a civil rights group holds a bigger, louder rally with more media coverage. Various organizations are creating Web sites to counter the huge number of hate group sites on the Internet.
According to an article on civilrights.org, “In short, the answer is to counter hate speech with more compelling speech promoting the vision of an America where we live together in mutual respect and celebrate our diversity.”
On campus someone found a swastika carved into an Oxford Village apartment building. We can paint a big, bright overwhelming mural over it to celebrate diversity.
Evil is real and must be named and confronted.
We cannot arrest everyone in a hate group. We have to fight these people in a different way.
We have to show everyone that this is not acceptable. Screaming matches and violence towards hate groups is counter-productive. We have to take the high road.
It seems appropriate to end with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said as he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at email@example.com.