From Publishers Weekly
Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and author of In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the American Civil Liberties Union , offers a readable, insightful chronological history of the United States' unusual policy on hate speech, which in most other countries is prohibited. Though he doesn't ignore legal doctrine, he focuses more on the advocates who shaped the policy. He traces the issue back to the 1920s, when the new ACLU clashed with youthful civil rights groups like the American Jewish Committee and the NAACP over free speech cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which vindicated the ACLU's position in the 1931 Stromberg v. California case. Three years later with the Nazi threat growing in Europe, the ACLU argued that Nazis in America deserved free speech and that has been the source of ACLU--and American--policy since then. In 1952, the high court upheld a group libel law, which major Jewish groups and others opposed, arguing that only education, not law, could stem prejudice. Walker observes that black civil rights advocates, whom hate speech laws might protect, also opposed such laws because they recognized the importance of what he calls "content-neutral protection for all ideas and groups." The rise of campus speech codes since the 1980s ("the most successful effort in American history to restrict hate speech") Walker chalks up to an increasing campus polarization on racial matters, the domination of "left-liberal coalitions" on campus and the weakness there of the ACLU. The author concludes by defending the ACLU position, noting that minorities are often the first to be prosecuted under hate speech rules.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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They're not "Jewish-Americans," goddammit, they're Jews! Walker appeals to the linguistic model of "African-Americans" when he should be appealing to the observation of reality with its richness of idiomatic contingencies. You can't help wondering whether the same quixotic disregard for the empirical informs his entire analysis of the conflict between free speech ideals and the opposition to nascent American fascism. (The question arises frequently as this hagiography of the American Civil Liberties Union by a former board member proceeds.) But is this first comprehensive history of hate speech in the U.S. nevertheless indispensable? Absolutely. From it we learn that the First Amendment languished until the twentieth century, that a coherent body of interpretations of it did not begin to appear until the 1940s, that those interpretations have made the U.S. the most tolerant nation on the earth, and that the interpretations could have gone the other way had African Americans and Jews--the major advocates of restrictive interpretations--not for historical reasons championed tolerance. Walker also analyzes the resurgence of First Amendment restrictions among traditionally tolerant groups on college campuses today. With all its imperfections, a timely book. Roland Wulbert
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