A Democrat asks: "Where does free speech end?"

A Democrat activist wrote:  "Where does free speech end?  Certainly at the grill of a Dodge Challenger.  KKK and confederate flags have always been around in my lifetime, protected as free speech, but nazi (sic) flags?  With a war in living memory that killed millions and a movement that killed millions more, I thought swastikas were a red line.  Are nazi (sic) flags free speech?  I know/hope that republicans (sic) don't support this but will they speak up, or are they entirely spineless?"

Purposefully running down somebody with an automobile isn't free speech.  It is murder.  Because it happened in Virginia, with its Republican Legislature (the GOP controls the Senate 21 to 19 and the House of Delegates 66 to 34), if convicted the perpetrator will get the death penalty and will be executed for his crime. 

This wouldn't happen in New Jersey, with its Democrat-controlled Legislature.  Here the perpetrator would be coddled at taxpayer expense and would, perhaps, sue the state because he wasn't receiving enough benefits.  It wasn't long ago that a convicted rapist sued the state so that he could have a sex-change operation and serve the remainder of his sentence as a "woman".  Of course, James Randall Smith, who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old girl, expected the state's taxpayers to pay for his sex-change operation.

As for Nazi flags, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that a Nazi flag is as much an element of free speech as is burning the American flag.  On its website, the ACLU explains why it defended Nazis:

"In 1978, the ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie , where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU's unwavering commitment to principle. In fact, many of the laws the ACLU cited to defend the group's right to free speech and assembly were the same laws it had invoked during the Civil Rights era, when Southern cities tried to shut down civil rights marches with similar claims about the violence and disruption the protests would cause."

The ACLU makes its arguments for all to read, on its website, and we encourage everyone to visit the website (www.aclu.org):

"Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition -- this set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has written that this freedom is 'the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.'

Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither and die. 

But in spite of its 'preferred position' in our constitutional hierarchy, the nation's commitment to freedom of expression has been tested over and over again. Especially during times of national stress, like war abroad or social upheaval at home, people exercising their First Amendment rights have been censored, fined, even jailed. Those with unpopular political ideas have always borne the brunt of government repression. It was during WWI -- hardly ancient history -- that a person could be jailed just for giving out anti-war leaflets. Out of those early cases, modern First Amendment law evolved. Many struggles and many cases later, ours is the most speech-protective country in the world.

The path to freedom was long and arduous. It took nearly 200 years to establish firm constitutional limits on the government's power to punish 'seditious'  and 'subversive' speech. Many people suffered along the way, such as labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Espionage Act just for telling a rally of peaceful workers to realize they were 'fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.'  Or Sidney Street, jailed in 1969 for burning an American flag on a Harlem street corner to protest the shooting of civil rights figure James Meredith...

Early Americans enjoyed great freedom compared to citizens of other nations. Nevertheless, once in power, even the Constitution's framers were guilty of overstepping the First Amendment they had so recently adopted. In 1798, during the French-Indian War, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Act, which made it a crime for anyone to publish 'any false, scandalous and malicious writing' against the government. It was used by the then-dominant Federalist Party to prosecute prominent Republican newspaper editors during the late 18th century.

Throughout the 19th century, sedition, criminal anarchy and criminal conspiracy laws were used to suppress the speech of abolitionists, religious minorities, suffragists, labor organizers, and pacifists. In Virginia prior to the Civil War, for example, anyone who 'by speaking or writing maintains that owners have no right of property in slaves'  was subject to a one-year prison sentence.

The early 20th century was not much better. In 1912, feminist Margaret Sanger was arrested for giving a lecture on birth control. Trade union meetings were banned and courts routinely granted injunctions prohibiting strikes and other labor protests. Violators were sentenced to prison. Peaceful protesters opposing U. S. entry into World War I were jailed for expressing their opinions. In the early 1920s, many states outlawed the display of red or black flags, symbols of communism and anarchism. In 1923, author Upton Sinclair was arrested for trying to read the text of the First Amendment at a union rally. Many people were arrested merely for membership in groups regarded as 'radical' by the government. It was in response to the excesses of this period that the ACLU was founded in 1920.

...The ACLU has often been at the center of controversy for defending the free speech rights of groups that spew hate, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn't need a First Amendment. History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one's liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are 'indivisible.'

Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is 'the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.'"

Everyone should ask themselves the question, "Where does free speech end?"  And then follow that question with another:  "When do you want it to end?"