Read the following very carefully before you react to any one specific piece of information.
I don’t think there’s been any action the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has taken that hasn’t angered somebody, but one thing I’ve always seen in this organization is its adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Even if this action means protecting those who are advocates of hatred and despised almost universally.
Case in point is the now famous planned march in 1977 of Nazi supporters through Skokie, Illinois — a community that was predominately Jewish, with an unusually large number of Holocaust survivors.
Is the Nazi organization a despicable organization? Oh, yes. Personally, I have no tolerance for the organization in any way. Was this planned march cruel and heinous? Oh yes, it most definitely was. However, by the laws of our Constitution, no matter how we feel about the Nazi organization, its members had the right to march if they obtained the appropriate permits.
When the Nazis were blocked, the organization contacted the ACLU to seek help in upholding their constitutional rights. The ACLU accepted the case and in what is now a most famous bit of irony, a Jewish lawyer was assigned to support the Nazi party’s claims, David Goldberger. In another bit of irony, at the time, the ACLU was lead by Aryeh Neier, a German whose family had been killed because of the Holocaust.
Neier was to later say in defense of the ACLU action:
Keeping a few Nazi’s off the streets of Skokie will serve Jews poorly if it means that the freedoms to speak, publish or assemble any place in the United States are thereby weakened.
Goldberger himself later said:
I don’t think I’ll ever look back on it without remembering the pain it caused…. The hardest thing was being at odds with people for whom you had strong feelings of empathy.
The ACLU successfully won for the Nazi party their right to march. However, the Nazis never did march in Skokie, staging a protest in Marquette Park in Chicago instead — their preferred venue.
No legal precedent was set. No momentous turn in history was achieved because of the actions of the ACLU. The only victory was a moral one, in that the ACLU demonstrated the true spirt of Freedom of Speech.
I have tried to model my standard regarding equality and freedom of speech based on the actions of these two men and others like them. To speak out for the oppressed when the oppressed is beautiful, or popular or innocent or winsome is noble. But to speak out for the oppressed when they are ugly and abhorrent — that is true equality.