Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flying the Flags: Is Support for a Hate Group Protected Free Speech?

by Nomad

A Boca Raton man flies the flags of the Confederacy and the KKK over his home. A recruitment sign along with a noose are also features in his front yard. Is this really free speech, protected by the Constitution or symbols meant to intimidate black Americans and other minorities?

Does freedom of speech include the freedom to demonstrate open support for a racist hate group? According to one west Boca Raton Florida man, it certainly does.  "Mr. Hayes" - the only name he would give-   hoisted both the KKK and confederate flag over his mobile home a couple weeks ago. He has also posted a sign recruiting new members.  
Hayes told  the reporter that he had moved to Florida from New York about four years ago.  Although the KKK has always had a violent history against blacks and other minorities, Hayes says he doesn't condone such acts. Nevertheless, he does think his right to free speech allows him to hang a noose in his front yard.

According to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),  the Klan's last rise came in the 1960s as a response to the civil rights movement and to preserve segregation following adverse court rulings. At that time, the Klan was reportedly responsible for bombings and murders including the murder of our young girls killed while preparing for Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
Since the 1970s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, a seemingly endless series of splits and government infiltration. While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere "civil rights for whites." Today, the Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different - and often warring - organizations that use the Klan name.
In fact, the KKK is considered only one of the 939 active hate groups that the SPLC has tracked. The organization categorized these groups into eight groups: black separatist, neo-confederate, Christian identity, racist skinhead, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and general hate.
A vast majority of the groups are located in the South- a total of 589 identified groups. Texas has 57 and Florida hosts 58 groups but surprisingly, perhaps the state with the most groups is California.  Unlike the South,  California does not have a history as a former slave holding state or a member of the Confederacy.

Like a lot of white supremists, Mr Hayes seemed concerned about the race demographics. He told an interviewer:
"As many people know, the white families are producing less children because the father and mother work and you have interracial marriages and gay marriages, so there are less and less white children being born every day. So we're against that."
As far as violence, Mr. Hayes said,
"We don't go around committing hate crimes .We don't beat up on faggots or black people or burn crosses or any of that nonsense."
Despite those assurances, some of his neighbors don't like the idea. Others, Hayes claimed, seem to support his idea of free speech.
Hayes said he understands how people might feel threatened, but he doesn't seem to mind.
"Hey, nobody stops the Puerto Ricans from flying their Puerto Rican flag or the Jews from having their yarmulke or whatever it is in the holidays," Hayes said. "I mean, everybody is entitled to do what they want to do. That's what this country is all about -- freedom of speech."
According to Hayes, flying a state (or US territorial) flag is the same as a Confederate flag. And wearing a religious skullcap by Jews is the same as flying a KKK flag. At least when it comes to free speech.

In a famous Supreme Court case from 1949, Justice William O. Douglas wrote that freedom of speech was protected against censorship or punishment, "unless shown likely to roduce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest ... There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view."

More recently, in Virginia v. Black (2003), a case involving cross burning- a KKK tradition-  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that while cross-burning may constitute illegal intimidation in some cases, a ban on the public burning of crosses would violate the First Amendment.  Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

"State may choose to prohibit only those forms of intimidation," Justice O'Connor wrote, "that are most likely to inspire fear of bodily harm."

So while the flags themselves might be offensive, in themselves, according to the Supreme Court, they are considered protected free speech. The noose? That's another story.