The Major Reason White Supremacist Groups & Events are Protected Under Freedom of Speech
By: Joseph Bonner
Freedom of speech has long been a right protected under the United States Constitution, and although interpretations of certain aspects of freedom of speech vary from state to state, it is still a significant right that bears a weighty responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens.
The topic comes to the forefront following a controversial protest by white supremacist at the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. on August 11, 2017.
The protest led to intense violence and murder, causing the Governor of Virginia to declared a state of emergency.
So, why are white supremacist protected under the First Amendment?
Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), was a true milestone United States Supreme Court case based on the First Amendment. The Court maintained that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
Under that United States Supreme Court decision, for freedom of speech to be revoked, the speech has to meet two criteria.
1) Encourage people to carry out lawless acts. 2) Result in criminal action.
In the case of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, it may be suggested that the event did lead to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. This could mean that under the Brandenburg v. Ohio case at least one criterion has been met. Criminal action by way of fights and murder has been the resulted. However, the burden of proof remains on the state of Virginia to prove if any statements made at the Unite The Right rally by its organizer encouraged people to carry out violence or participate in some other illegal activity.
Lastly, the freedom of speech can also be legally revoked when slander is involved.
If the city of Virginia would have been able to prove to a court of law that the white supremacist event was organized to spread defamatory lies about minorities, a legal revoking of their freedom of speech may legally be applied. That, of course, is left to the US courts to decide.
So although white supremacist are protected under the First Amendment, it should be noted that all such freedoms enjoyed by any group of people and or individuals are not without legal limits. When light is shone on those limits in a court of law, it may result in the legal establishment of clearer boundaries.