The ACLU and the KKK.

The former is defending the latter’s right to adopt a highway in Georgia. Victoria Bekiempis argues the ACLU made the right call:

[T]he ACLU has a long and laudable history of taking on unpopular, even ugly free-speech cases. The most famous example? In 1977, a group of neo-Nazis announced their intention to march through Skokie, Illinois, where one out of every six Jewish residents had survived the Holocaust or was directly related to a survivor. The Chicago suburb denied permission for the neo-Nazis’ gathering, but the ACLU accepted the case and won, upholding neo-Nazis’ right to free speech…

[L]imiting rights based upon what “offends” sets up an epistemically and ethically untenable schema. Individual notions of “offensiveness” are not just broad; they’re outright subjective. There is no clear sense of, or consensus on, what offensiveness means in the first place.

This is the exact same mistake I mentioned on Thursday that Waldron has highlighted, of conflating offense with an attack on dignity. We’re not talking here about a group that arbitrarily annoys another subset of a society by laughing at its religion or mocking its political views. What we have on our hands is a group systematically committed to making the lives of a racial group hell simply by virtue of the colour of their skin. One is an important expression of thought that any free society must necessarily tolerate. The other is an attempt to make some people feel and appear non-human. How else is “we whites all across America have the Ku Klux Klan; fighting for a Brighter Whiter America” to be interpreted?

If you think this sort of speech ought to be protected and allowed in public, either explain how it is consistent with preserving the ethos necessary for certain groups to go about their lives, or concede that the right of racists to destroy that atmosphere is more important. And in conceding that, spell out fully for us all the implications you must accept: the right of restaurant owners to erect signs saying ‘Jews are not welcome’; the freedom of football fans to chant monkey sounds whenever black players touch the ball; the ability of patriarchal pigs to take out ads on television insisting that women are inferior; and, indeed, the right of Christian bigots to buy signs on buses implying to gay people that they have a disease.


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