Should the ACLU Defend Free Speech Rights of Hate Groups?

Jake Neher/WDET

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss

The American Civil Liberties Union has long been willing to represent hate groups in court to defend their free speech rights. The ACLU, for example, represented the hate groups that rallied in Charlottesville in court to make sure they were able to hold those protests. And they caught a lot of flack for that. 

Since then, the ACLU has said it’s changing its stance on representing these groups in the future. It says it will no longer represent groups who want to carry firearms during protests. 

What is the right approach when you’re an organization whose mission is to defend civil liberties and some of the clients you take on engage in constitutionally protected hate speech?

Kary Moss, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, speaks with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about the ACLU’s decision to stop representing hate groups carrying guns. 

The First Amendment does not protect violence,” says Moss. 

According to Moss, the media has mischaracterized recent statements made by the national ACLU about their stance on representing hate groups. 

Going back to the 1930’s, the ACLU has declined to accept representation of groups that…want to carry arms or…present an imminent threat to the public.” 

In the case of the Charlottesville rally, “(protestors) actually swore an oath, I believe they signed an affidavit, that they would not engage in violence. And the city did not put on display or represent any evidence that there was a risk of violence,” says Moss.

In Moss’ opinion “what happened in Charlottesville is less about free speech and…really more about failure of policing.” 

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 

Image credit: Courtesy of Dan Gottlieb

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