Rights that protect hate groups safeguard everyone's...

September 03, 1999

Rights that protect hate groups safeguard everyone's freedoms

Two recent letters criticized the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for its efforts to protect free speech and privacy ("Protecting hate and guns fosters a killing society," Aug. 24).

Both letters suggested that the ACLU is somehow responsible for recent acts of violence throughout the county.

The ACLU, like most citizens, was horrified by these acts of terror. In no way do we support the doctrines behind these violent acts or these hateful actions. However, the ACLU does not believe restricting speech is the answer.

The constitutional right to freedom of speech in no way prevents punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses or threatens another person -- even if words are used. In fact, the ACLU itself has supported carefully drafted, speech-protective hate crimes legislation.

We have other, better means of countering hate groups than restricting speech. The ACLU has long championed the rights of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and has facilitated thousands of public education projects that have generated greater understanding.

But perhaps this point is most important: Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone's rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence other unpopular voices.

We should not give the government authority to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught that it is more likely to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them.

Laws that defend free speech for bigots guarantee the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists and others fighting for justice.

The ACLU's First Amendment cases through the years prove this: Our clients have included labor activists, gay activists trying to organize a march on the Eastern Shore, members of the New Party circulating petitions and socialists trying to leaflet -- as well as the Ku Klux Klan.

If Americans are to be the masters of their fate and of their elected government, they must be well-informed and have access to all ideas and points of view.

Prohibiting the KKK or other hate groups organizations from expressing their ideas in public will not stop members from being bigoted.

In fact, this suppression could lead to a false sense of security and potentially undermine the freedoms that our country has fought so long to preserve.

Susan Goering, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the ACLU of Maryland.

Don't revoke Constitution trying to make us safer

While it is understandable that Americans are outraged by the violence erupting throughout the country, the remedies proposed by five authors of Aug. 24 letters are completely unconscionable.

In letters under the heading "To stop hate crimes, ban hate-mongering," "Protecting hate and guns fosters a killing society" and "Easy access to guns contributes to tragedies" the authors' underlying messages are all similar: Revoking the Bill of Rights and eliminating groups that defend it will make America a safer place.

What would our Founding Fathers say to the restrictions proposed and intolerance demonstrated by these writers?

Andrew Coale, Lutherville

It was most frightening to read Sun readers' reactions to the shooting at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center.

I am second to none in my disdain for the Nazi philosophy. To suggest, however, that we can censor "hate speech" and keep the First Amendment is to suggest the impossible.

If we wish to censor hate speech because people have died as a result of these ideas, why should we stop with the Nazis? Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and China's Chairman Mao Tse-tung also killed millions of people.

So let's go to the library and burn every copy of "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto."

Let's burn the Constitution, too.

Dennis Olver, Baltimore

Country still needs militia 2nd Amendment enables

As a former National Guard officer and combat veteran who has never had any connection to the National Rifle Association, I wish to comment on Albert Denny's letter ("Would gun control have prevented Los Angeles shooting," Aug 17).

Mr. Denny said: "The NRA falls back on the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But when the Bill of Rights was ratified more than 200 years ago, America was a vastly different nation . . ."

By Mr. Denny's reasoning, the entire Bill of Rights should be considered an anachronistic nullity to be disregarded by liberal journalists and politicians.

But what has not changed since the Bill of Rights was enacted is the need for a self-armed, "well-regulated" militia (as distinguished from armed mobs) in case of invasion or civil emergencies, after wartime mobilization of the National Guard -- which is what what the Second Amendment expressly concerns.

As an escaped prisoner of war and otherwise, I have seen enemy and allied folk militias in action. Their wartime assistance to regular armed forces is essential.

Willis Case Rowe, Baltimore

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.