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Free Speech

Free Speech

Home Civics Free Speech History Constitutional Protection for Dangerous Speech?

Constitutional Protection for Dangerous Speech?

  • Does the First Amendment protect hateful speech that might incite violence?
  • Famous Supreme Court ruling on limits of dangerous speech began with arrest of 1964 arrest of KKK member Clarence Brandenburg

In 1964, Clarence Brandenburg, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, addressed a small Klan rally in Hamilton County, Ohio. "The n----- should be returned to Africa, the Jew returned to Israel," bellowed Brandenburg. "If our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it's possible that there might have to be some revengence taken."39 The eleven Klansmen attending cheered wildly as Brandenburg spoke—most were dressed in robes and hoods, and some waved guns in the air.

Shortly after, Brandenburg was arrested under an Ohio law that made it illegal to advocate "crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform," or to assemble "with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism."40 He was convicted in a state court, fined $1000, and sentenced to one to ten years in jail. But Brandenburg appealed his conviction, arguing that this Ohio law violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case and on 9 June 1969, the Court revealed its decision.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves; that's the end of the story, not the beginning.

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