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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Constitution
  • Protests
  • Supreme Court
Grade(s)
  • 7-12
  • College/University

THE CASE

You are the mayor of Skokie, Ill., a community with a large Jewish population, including thousands of Holocaust survivors. Members of a political party with a history of divisive and discriminatory views want to stage a march in your town. In past public gatherings, the members of this party have worn uniforms that resemble the robes worn by the Ku Klux Klan (a hate group that promotes white supremacy) and armbands with swastikas, a symbol of the Nazi Party. The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, was responsible for the death of millions of Jews and members of other minority groups in the World War II Holocaust.

Although the party has said this march is about protesting new rules limiting political demonstrations in public parks, many members of your community suspect that it will also be used as an opportunity to promote the group’s anti-Semitic and anti-integration views and to intimidate local residents. The marchers argue that because they have given fair warning of when and where the march will take place (in addition to public announcements, they have advertised the planned gathering in the local newspaper) residents who are fearful can avoid the protest.

Community members are rallying together to try to stop this demonstration, which many see as similar to Nazi demonstrations against Jews during World War II because of the views being expressed and the display of swastikas. A local circuit court has ruled that the march cannot take place because of the real and significant potential that it will turn violent. But the party is appealing the ruling, and your community is looking to you for guidance on what to do next.

Should you allow this protest to proceed?

  1. No. With the choice of location and plan to display swastikas, this event seems intended to intimidate residents and brings too great a risk of violence.

    It is not reasonable to expect anyone who disagrees with this group’s views to simply ignore this very public display, and clashes between the protesters and angry citizens could easily get out of hand.

    "I also defend the (First) Amendment. But this is like calling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."

    — Sol Goldstein, leader of a Holocaust survivors’ community
  2. Frank Collin
    ?
    Bettmann/Getty Images

    Yes. Although this group’s views are hateful and go against the beliefs of many of your town’s residents, they still have a constitutional right to gather and protest like any other political group.

    Residents who disagree with their message and symbolism can either stay away or peacefully counterprotest.

    "By forcing the 'free speech’ … issue in Skokie (Ill.) we are fighting for our basic rights everywhere."

    — Frank Collin, leader of the protesting political party

  • Should the First Amendment — which protects the freedom of speech, assembly and petition —protect this protest? Why or why not?
  • What types of rules or restrictions could be put in place to allow the march to take place but limit the potential for harm or violence? How would you control the activities allowed, location, timing, symbols and messages displayed, etc.?
  • Do you think citizens should have a right to prevent fearful imagery or hateful language from being brought into their own communities?
  • Whose responsibility is it to prevent violence during a political demonstration? The organizers? Participants? Those who show up to counterprotest? City leaders? Police?
  • Is providing a public announcement a reasonable way to make sure that people who disagree with a protest’s topic stay away and avoid conflict? Should people who disagree with the ideas being presented at a demonstration be able to confront the demonstrators?
  • In today’s social and political climate, are there any views or symbols that should be deemed too controversial for public protests?

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