On Friday, February 22nd, we went to a City Club forum wherein the speaker was Ms. Nadine Strossen, who served as the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 1991-2008 and had the honor of being its first woman president. Ms. Strossen is also the author of a new book titled, Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship which was the basis of her talk on this day.
Along these lines, she started her presentation by quoting former U.S. President Barack Obama who said that “the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech-the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.” She went on to explain her opposition to censorship of hate speech by citing reasons that included that not only is it against first amendment principles and is counter to what we should stand for as a free society but history has proven it to be counter-productive and ultimately ineffective. She referenced examples of how in Germany in the 1930’s, efforts to repress the Nazis ultimately made them stronger.
We can think of no one more qualifed than Ms. Strossen to make these arguments because not only was she the president of the ACLU, she is also an attorney twice named as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by The National Law Journal. What’s more, she is the daughter of a holocaust survivor; she shared her father’s story of how, as a youth, he actively protested the policies of Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, he was placed in a concentration camp where he performed slave labor and was scheduled for sterilization but, thankfully, the camp was liberated just before the procedure could take place.
Of course, there are limits to everything. Ms. Strossen made a strong case for the ACLU‘s position on allowing the 2017 Unite the Right Rally to take place in Charlottesville. Nevertheless, those who disagreed with the white supremacists certainly had both the right and the duty to be out there in order to peacefully challenge them. It was only when one side got out their torches and weapons to physically intimidate their opposition did the authorities have the right to put a stop to the proceedings. .
In terms of limits, during the Q and A, we asked about discrimination in the workplace-specifically did Muslims have the right to ask that derogatory remarks against them be silenced. In her answer, Ms. Strossen indicated that various ruling have established that private workplaces are not actually covered by first amendment protections and, yes, there are legal steps that victims can take to protect themselves.
Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club President and CEO, kicked off the program as usual, saying that the only way to insure free speech is that all sides be presented. Therefore, the City Club and the ACLU are of “the same DNA.”
Photo from the City Club.