In the late ’80s, as a student in the Law Clinic program at Loyola School of Law, I handled an assortment of legal issues.
The clinic was assigned to file a writ of mandamus to the court forcing the city of New Orleans to issue an assembly permit to the KKK, allowing a march in the French Quarter. The city refused the permit based on its content: A message of hatred.
I was confident my professor would not require my involvement. After all, I was Jewish, and the Aryan Brotherhood had no place for Jews in their world. My African-American professor merely laughed when I suggested that I was wrong for the job, making it clear he would be there every step of the way.
The court readily agreed free speech does not permit content to be regulated by the government, forcing the city to issue the permit. The permit was handed to David Duke, who only wanted to thank the clinic.
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My professor’s words to Duke were memorable: “Mr. Duke, you are a repugnant man with a repugnant message. Please do not address us. Simply take this permit, hold it and have it available for the police to see. This city will reject your message, but we will defend your right to state your repugnant message.”
The march was a real non-event; however, some years later, Duke would run against Edwin Edwards, a corrupt politician, for governor. The bumper stickers echoed the sense of immediacy for the importance of the message: “Vote for the crook, it’s important.” Years later, Edwards would serve 10 years in federal prison, but he won the election.
The moral of this story is we guard speech, we protect it from the thought police, we protect it from the content police. We may not allow a person to scream fire in a movie theater or demand thoughts to become violent action, but every generation must learn that just because we don’t want to hear it, does not mean it does not get to be said.