Skokie, Illinois VS. The Neo-Nazis
Skokie, Illinois is a suburb of Chicago that for someone my age and perhaps a bit older, is best known for being the backdrop to all your favorite John Hughes films. But prior to Claire Standish, John Bender and the rest of the Breakfast Club trashing the school library with a dance party, Skokie Illinois was a battle ground for free speech. In 1978, the Nationalist Socialist Party of America (NSPA, otherwise known as Nazis) were set on making their political presence known by holding a rally in a near-by Chicago park. When Chicago outlawed rallies in that particular park, the NSPA set their sights on Skokie, which also happens to have a large Jewish population.When Skokie refused to let them march, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in on behalf of the NSPA. When Chicago lifted the ban on demonstrations at their first intended rally site later, the NSPA returned to their original plan.
The most surprising part of this whole Nazi debacle is that Chicago was such a callow coward about the whole thing. Chicago, as a major city, is far more equipped to handle a Nazi rally than a smaller suburb like Skokie. In fact, it would benefit both parties to have the rally in Chicago where there are more media outlets (who won’t have to travel as far) to point their cameras and pens at you, and Chicago will naturally have a larger police force that can put down whatever riots an event like this could incite. Instead, Chicago was a complete wimp and almost ended up letting their little suburb of Skokie take the hit. For the love of Hitler, Skokie calls itself a “village” – they can’t handle a Nazi march. They could barely handle John Bender.
In Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, they speak with a lawyer with the ACLU that came to the defense of the NSPA, Martin Garbus. Garbus also happens to be Jewish. While I’m sure he was emotionally convoluted about taking this case, I think he absolutely did the right thing. If I were in the same position as Garbus, I would have taken the case. Like I’ve said in other posts concerning the 1st amendment, free speech is for everyone, whether or not we like their message. If we start making exceptions to to the 1st amendment, where does it end? And how long will it be before you become an exception yourself?
If the NSPA has the right to march on Skokie, that means that others also have the right to march against them. And if everyone who was against this march in the first place came out to protest, they would completely overwhelm the neo-Nazis. The Nazis should be allowed to march, and the rest of us that are against it should just do as the Greeks do: protest.
These type stories are nothing new – just last September, the Westboro Baptist Church was protesting in Brooklyn in various locations that included local schools and synagogues. At almost every single one of these protests, Westboro was overwhelmed by counter-protesters. Organizations and individuals will always push the envelope of free speech and that’s a good thing.
And if you don’t think it’s a good thing, you’re in luck. The 1st amendment gives you the right to tell the Nazis to “EAT. MY. SHORTS.”