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History As It Happens

Feb 1, 2024

The uproar over free expression and antisemitism on college campuses evokes a controversy from the late 1970s that left a lasting mark on First Amendment case law and provided an enduring lesson on the importance of free speech in a democratic society. In 1977, American Nazis led by Frank Collin sought permission to hold a rally in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, the home of thousands of Holocaust survivors. Outraged by the group's racist rhetoric and pamphleteering, the town won a preliminary injunction in court barring the Nazis from assembling. Realizing correctly that the First Amendment protects unpopular and hateful speech, the ACLU came to the Nazis' defense in a case that made national news and defined a generation of civil libertarians. In this episode, Nico Perrino of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) reflects on why Skokie matters at a time of increasing hostility to free expression across the American political spectrum. Perrino co-directed the documentary Mighty Ira, about Ira Glasser who led the ACLU for 23 years after the intense backlash against its legal defense of the Nazis' right to express themselves.