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Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 4

May 10, 2010 1 comment

The next part of this movie goes into deeper and more patriotic descriptions of the right for people to have freedom of speech, using the Bill of Rights and the words of the Founding Fathers.  This contrasts abruptly with yet another real-life free speech crisis.  It’s a quintessential lose-lose situation.  In the late 70’s, American Neo Nazis announced they would come to the largely Jewish Illinois suburb of Skokie to march, with their hateful speech and symbols.  The village courts found this legal despite the psychological and emotional discomfort and rage it would cause in the town.  The ACLU helped get the parading legally accepted.  But with so much publicity gained in these processes, the Nazis just demonstrated three times in Chicago instead.

Someone in the documentary defends this despicable form of expression and I have to agree for the most part.  There are so many other kinds of parades you could have through a street in a town that would also face much condemnation and cause much rage in those living nearby.  Advocating abortion or illegal drugs is not the kind of thing most Americans think someone should be locked up for for expressing, even though it’s considered by many extremely morally wrong.  Saying, in public “we Christian whites are superior and the Jews aren’t good people” isn’t too much different in quality from a sincere expression in the pride for, or belief in superiority of one’s culture, or expressing of rage against “the white man.”  Most Americans think we have superior ethics and a culture of progress.  We think that those who put down the ideal of equality and self-expression as basically ignorant or even evil.

These neo-Nazis weren’t going to make any physical threats, but would convey what they wanted to “peacefully.”  I also doubt Nazis have any organized power to launch an attack on anywhere ever again.  But I disagree with the movie’s analyst partly, because it would cause a lot of fear and frustration for Jews (and others) living in that town.  Although one can argue that white-fearing blacks are just as at fault, I think it’s more reasonable to be stressed and distraught by a misfit culture based on supreme intolerance and minority extermination for the short time it thrived.  It might feel like guns are firing outside your house if you lived in Skokie and this carried out.  Anyone with enough guts would fight back.  A Jewish resident would not have any sense of privacy if he goes outside with neo-Nazis lurking.  Furthermore, with TV cameras, this gang could show all about their beliefs and customs, with significant attention.  Their goal may have been to torment those they believe torments them.  But then we return to the fact that free speech includes the right to disapprove of others, as long as specific untruthful claims aren’t put into media.  This is still kind of an un-winnable issue.

A modern debate similar to this is the abortion issue.  I feel instinctively that there is something wrong about taking the life of a child away (unless its presence will surely be fatal to the mother’s life).  Also, there are unborn victim laws that make murdering a fetus a crime (whether or not the mother dies as well).  I also feel great pity and frustration for anyone who becomes pregnant and does not want their body and future life to be affected so severely.  It seems like a right the government should not intrude upon.  I personally can attempt to do anything I want to my body, except for trying to take my own life, which is illegal.  I probably can’t even understand how frustrating it is for a woman who goes through such a thing, especially here in America where we have the freedom to choose paths in life that our intelligence and our resources allow.  Like this neo-nazi-parade issue, it’s something that might be doomed to never be solved.  But I do think all people should the sincerity of those on the opposite side of the issue, if we are ever to come up with partial solutions.  I believe some things are pretty one-sided, but these are not.

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