The bigot is not a stand-in for Tom Paine. . . . Reality is not paradoxical. Our answer to the question, does defending Nazis really strengthen the system of free speech, is . . . generally no. Sometimes, defending Nazis is simply defending Nazis. –– Delgado & Stefancic
Last week I profiled Professor Alan Dershowitz’s Washington Post review of Professors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Must We Defend Nazis?: : Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy. In the spirit of a robust exchange of views, I invited some replies to that review.
Professor Shannon Gilreath kindly accepted my invitation. Gilreath is a Professor of Law and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of The End of Straight Supremacy (2011), in which he argues that anti-equality propaganda is incompatible with the right to equality enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. His reply is set out below (an invitation has been extended to Professor Dershowitz to respond).
______ REPLY ______
Must We Defend Nazis? is a timely update to Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s now classic theory on equality and freedom of expression. Their theory has influenced a generation of lawyers to reconceptualize so-called hate speech, not for the ideas it expresses but for the injury—the discrimination—it effectuates. Once this perspective is understood, the old canard that we must “protect the ideas we hate” falls apart.
Delgado and Stefancic do not advocate the suppression of ideas or viewpoints, but rather the responsible regulation of certain types of speech as action—as actually doing the material discrimination they are designed to do. Their theory is not designed to shut down civil dialogue or to safeguard fragile feelings. It is about inequality and the role a narrowly-defined class of speech plays in creating and perpetuating inequality.
In his review, Professor Alan Dershowitz instead worries about majoritarian condemnation of some ideas as “evil” and what perils to democracy might follow. None of the examples he offers is even remotely related to the kind of equality practice in speech that Delgado and Stefancic propose.
The case for “reasonable regulations”
First, he suggests that Delgado and Stefancic’s theory may support the silencing of activists who argue for Israel’s right to exist. But nothing in the book supports a heckler’s veto on political discourse. And there is definitely no support for anti-Semitic harangue dressed up as anti-Zionist critique. This is not to say that such things aren’t happening on some campuses. It is merely to point out that Delgado and Stefancic in no way support it or condone it. In fact, Professor Delgado and I collaborated on a symposium to address contemporary problems in free speech, and one of the issues included at Delgado’s suggestion was “the new anti-Semitism,” as Kenneth Marcus calls it, that is overtaking some campuses in the name of free expression.
In reality, Delgado and Stefancic offer a First Amendment theory that actually would allow reasonable regulation of anti-Semitic speech in ways that promote the equality interests of American Jews. The ACLU’s absolutist position instead prioritizes Nazis—a fact Dershowitz admits by his insistence that Nazi speech is at the core of the First Amendment. For Delgado and Stefancic, a commitment to equality lies at the core of a First Amendment utilized to operationalize the equality that, thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment, is at the heart of the Constitution itself.
When “neutral” is not neutral
Dershowitz prefers “neutral” speech regulations, dismissing the authors’ warning that such principles do little for the vulnerable in a system that pretends majority and minority start from the same position. He cites “time, place, and manner” restrictions. Such limitations may work if the question really was one of “hurt feelings,” as in regulations on funeral picketing, for example. They do nothing to deal with speech that produces discrimination at a systematic level. For example, a poster demanding that “Blacks Go Back to Africa” permitted in the common area of a dorm but prohibited to be nailed to the door of a black student’s dorm room is an absurd distinction. The discrimination happens regardless.
Contrary to the ACLU position of “more speech,” this kind of message isn’t designed to encourage a civil political discussion on race relations. It is designed to frighten and silence. Similarly, a burning cross that is confined to the private property of a white supremacist, as in Virginia v. Black, still produces the inherent injury of discrimination through fear and intimidation, and those who are disposed to enact the harms it represents are buoyed in their desires by the display. The Court’s refusal to see the systemic meaning of such a display was farcical.
The difference in approach from Europe is, I think, explained by the fact that a majority of Americans, unlike Europeans, have never had to grapple first-hand with the kind of violence and misery anti-equality speech can produce. Public displays of anti-Semitic “news” and cartoons (Stürmerkasten) in Nazi Germany served both to cow Jews and to recruit perpetrators. It cannot happen here is too easy an attitude to take up. In fact, since Donald Trump took office, crimes of physical violence against racial minorities and gays and lesbians have risen sharply—over 400% for gays and lesbians alone (see here also). The sharpest spike in university campus crimes has been against Jewish students.
Dr. King & the Klan
Finally, Dershowitz supposes that the triumphs of Martin Luther King would have been impossible in a system other than the absolutist one he defends. This particular jab seems especially dishonest, since Brandenburg v. Ohio, establishing our recent, Klan-friendly theory of free speech, wasn’t decided until a year after King’s death. Suppressed in Dershowitz’s evenhanded treatment of the speech of Nazis and Martin King is the reality that Nazis promote inequality for minorities and King was promoting equality. This is no small detail for Delgado and Stefancic who underscore that ours is a constitutional system decidedly not neutral on equality. They offer us a theory of speech that prioritizes equality as a substantive right. And the guidance they provide may be more critical today than ever before.
* Related *
→ Symposium, “Equality-Based Perspectives on the Free Speech Norm — Twenty-First Century Considerations,” Wake Forest Law Review (2009) (introduction here)
→ Gilreath, ”Tell Your Faggot Friend He Owes Me $500 for My Broken Hand’: Thoughts on a Substantive Equality Theory of Free Speech,'” Wake Forest Law Review (2009)
→ Delgado & Stefanic, “Four Observations About Hate Speech,” Wake Forest Law Review (2009)
“Polish President signs controversial Holocaust bill into law”
The bill’s backers say talking about Polish complicity in Nazi genocide is a form of group defamation.
This from James Masters over at CNN: “Polish President Andrzej Duda signed Poland’s controversial new Holocaust bill late Tuesday ahead of it being assessed by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal. The law would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust. It would also ban the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” in relation to Auschwitz and other such camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland….”
→ This from Jacob Sullum writing in Reason: “In Poland, as in several other European countries, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust. Soon, thanks to [the new law . . . will make it] a crime to discuss the Holocaust too frankly.”
“The . . . ban on references to Polish complicity in Nazi genocide, which has provoked outrage in Israel and around the world, may seem inconsistent with the ban on Holocaust denial. But the two taboos are of a piece with each other and with Poland’s prohibition of ethnic insults—a fact that should give pause to American fans of European-style speech regulation.”
“The Polish [law] makes it a crime, punishable by fines and up to three years in prison, to accuse ‘the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.’ The legislation was motivated largely by anger at the common use of phrases like ‘Polish death camps,’ which could be read to mean that the war crimes committed by Germans in occupied Poland were a project of the Polish government.”
“‘German Nazi crimes are attributed to Poles,” Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki complained . . . . ‘And so far the Polish state has not been able to effectively fight these types of insults to the Polish nation.'”
“Some of these ‘insults’ happen to be true, since part of ‘the Polish nation’ was “complicit in the Nazi crimes.’ Poles saved Jews, but Poles also murdered Jews, under Nazi instruction and on their own initiative. . . .”
→ Atika Shubert & Antonia Mortensen, Polish Holocaust law sows ‘distortions,’ Poland’s chief rabbi says, CNN, Feb. 9, 2018 (includes video feed)
→ JTA, Poland isn’t the only country censoring speech about the Holocaust, The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 7, 2018
“New Slate Of Commissioners Should Elevate FTC’s Consideration of First Amendment” Read More