Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Bible and Constitution Protect the KKK’s Right to ‘Adopt-A-Highway’

July 9, 2012 2:00 pm 0 comments

Ku Klux Klansmen and women at a cross lighting. Photo: wiki commons.

When Free Speech Collides with Hate Speech, Truth is the Remedy

Conspicuously wearing my kippah, I walked out of a TJ Maxx in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I was visiting family, when a car full of skinheads sped up to me with arms stretched out the window in a Hitler salute chanting “Sieg heil!” I sternly retorted: “I condemn and despise your hateful ideology but support your right to free expression!” If these Neo-Nazi skinheads thought Jewish people were strange, I’m sure my response confirmed it.

The Georgia Department of Transportation rejected the Ku Klux Klan’s application to adopt a highway because of the groups’ hateful ideology. The American Civil Liberties Union is now defending the Klan. Despite the KKK’s despicable and hateful ideology, the First Amendment protects their free speech, and therefore their right to participate in Georgia state’s Adopt-A-Highway program.

At face value, Jewish law does not appear to support pure free speech. It does, however, recognize and espouse the benefits of rigorous debate. The interpretation of Jewish law is in fact created through heated debate, for example, between the schools of Hillel and Shamai. The Jewish approach tends not toward regulating different opinions, but promoting the “marketplace of ideas,” believing that is where the truth of matter will be revealed.

Laws prohibiting the government from regulating hate speech, excluding of course obscenity, defamation and incitement to riot, are generally unconstitutional in the United States. U.S. Supreme Court opinions dating back to Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire 315 U.S. 568 (1942) affirm that speech directed at a specific individual meant to inflict injury or “incite an immediate” threat (i.e., “yelling fire in a theater”) is not protected under the First Amendment. However, unless you can show that the words pose a direct and immediate threat, hate speech is still generally protected.

The more difficult question is where do we draw the line when it comes to hate speech that is not designed to incite but is an expression of a hateful ideology? Should society regulate speech such as a sign bearing the insignia of the Georgia KKK on an interstate highway?

In Jewish law the punishment for hate speech (e.g., lashon hara) is a heavenly dermatological disease called tzara’at. In Numbers 12:10 Miriam is afflicted with the disease for criticizing the Ethiopian race of Moses wife. Interestingly, nature and the divine, not the justice system, afflict an offender with tzara’at (Artscroll Tanach, Leviticus 13, commentary, pg. 272). Those afflicted with tzara’at were marginalized from society, in designated camps, as part of their atonement (Leviticus 13:45-46). Figuratively, the hate speech itself marginalized the offender from society just as the vile rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church isolates their ideology from mainstream society. It is a cause and effect relationship without any need for government censorship.

The inherent message is that we don’t need to ban or censor hateful speech, because the real solution is marginalizing hateful ideology through truthfulness. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said it best: “Freedom of speech carries with it certain obligations. One of those is to condemn false speech. The best answer to false speech is not censorship, it is truthfulness.”

Racist, homophobic and hateful organizations like the KKK undermine their ideology more than promote it. Allowing them to speak in public helps expose them for who they are. The best way to respond and defeat those ideologies is by exposing them.

By attempting to suppress their speech we only make them stronger. Racist ideologies thrive in countries like Austria, France and the United Kingdom, where hate speech is restricted. For instance, the Netherlands’ islamophobic and racist Party for Freedom received almost 1.5 million votes in the 2010 election. Those guilty of hate speech often garner media attention, become martyrs and use speech suppression as a recruitment tool.

In 2004 when the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the KKK had a free speech right to adopt a highway, the Missouri legislature used the opportunity to effectively and constitutionally combat the hate speech:

Lawmakers named that section of roadway the Rosa Parks Highway, as the New York Times reports. When a different white supremacist group adopted another highway segment, Missouri lawmakers renamed that road for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian who escaped Nazi Germany for the U.S. where he became a civil rights activist.

The best way to delegitimize racist and bigoted viewpoints is through the marketplace of ideas not through government regulations infringing on the First Amendment.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →