Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nazis and Free Speech

The neo-Nazis wanted provoke a riot and they got it. A neo-nazi march in Toledo, Ohio went awry and rioting and looting broke out. The march was to protest "Black crime," and guess what? "Black crime" reared its ugly head.

Obviously I don't believe in something called "Black crime." Yes, the Black community has a higher rate of incarceration than any other ethnic group, but that's not because of some genetic predisposition. I'm only pointing this out because conservatives have been accused of racism, and I guess I had to make clear that I'm not a racist.

I'm deferring on the legal question of allowing the Nazi march to the Supreme Court. That said, the Nazis should be allowed to march. And, of course, they need to be afforded sufficient protection.

But cases like these reside on the outskirts of our freedom of speech. Speech is a fundamental right, without doubt. But sometimes free speech can injure others. The Supreme Court ruled in 1942 that the Constitution does not protect "fighting words" which are words by "their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace."

We draw lines about the bounds of free speech all the time. People do not have the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater; they do not have the right to libel their neighbors; and they do not have the right to propagate obscenity. Speech that injures falls within these exceptions of unprotected speech. If any words inflict injury, it's neo-Nazi speech.

But can we ban speech merely because it's injurious? Where exactly do we draw the line? What about someone preaching about the benefits of Communism? Or someone calling for the conversion of our Republic to a Sharia-run Islamic state?

Clearly speech calling for the end of "Black crime" is worse than the above examples. It's an attack on an racial group, an attack that implies that the group is predisposed to commit violence. Blacks have heard this before, and such an attack certainly heightens tensions. This is not to excuse the riot, and the Black community gets provoked way too easily (check out Crown Heights, 1991).

But, we as a society, must decide when free speech violates someone else's rights. I'm not sure this is such an example, but those cases do exist and we must recognize them.

Update: I'm not really sure how protesting a neo-Nazi march justifiably leads to burning a bar to the ground. This situation turned out to be the worst case scenario.

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