When self-avowed ""Nazi"" Frank Collin announced his intention to demonstrate in the predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb of...


THE NAZI/SKOKIE CONFLICT: A Civil Liberties Battle

When self-avowed ""Nazi"" Frank Collin announced his intention to demonstrate in the predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie in early 1977, it was inevitable that the American Civil Liberties Union would become involved--no one else would touch Collin with a ten-foot pole. In his account of the ensuing litigation and community upheaval, Illinois ACLU director Hamlin explores both the limits of First Amendment rights and the ironies inherent in civil libertarians' representation of a fascist. The story has all the trappings of a classic freedom-of-speech case: a highly unpopular cause; violently antagonistic local reaction; inflammatory press coverage; wrenching personal sacrifice (Collin's ACLU attorney was David Goldberger, a Jew); and final vindication of the First Amendment in the courts. The village of Skokie threw everything it had at Collin (first an injunction, then three specially-passed ordinances); and during the year of litigation, the ACLU took a severe public-relations beating. Goldberger and Hamlin fielded hate calls routinely and were often physically threatened; ACLU membership and contributions dropped sharply. ""The reaction to Collin,"" says Hamlin, ""became far greater than the threat Collin actually presented."" (This view was amply borne out when Collin finally held his long-delayed demonstration--he was shouted down by the crowd and, despite a bullhorn, could not be heard at all.) Hamlin pulls no punches: Collin and his followers were at best a ""comic charade,"" but the opposition leftist demonstrators' ""No free speech for fascists"" slogan was simply another form of fascism. Potential audience reaction to the expression of an idea is no excuse for censorship--the First Amendment's protection of all ideas, even Frank Collin's, is ""the life, the essential element, of democracy itself."" Though this sentiment sounds reasonable enough in the abstract, Hamlin's careful, understated narrative reminds us that its defense is often an act of unappreciated courage. Worthwhile reading for anyone concerned about civil liberties.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980