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Opinion

Editorial: Deplorable as he may be, Donald Trump has the right to speak in West Hollywood

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on April 6 in Bethpage, N.Y.

(Associated Press)

We bow to no one in our disgust with Donald Trump’s offensive comments about Muslims, Mexicans and women, and we’re appalled by his reckless rhetoric. But we also recognize that the 1st Amendment gives Trump (and everyone else) a right to free speech anywhere in the United States. The mayor of West Hollywood seems to have a problem with that basic principle.

Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath has written to the Trump campaign saying that the “hate speech and implicit calls to violence coming from your campaign are beyond the pale and have no place in any community in our country.” Fair enough. But Horvath also has suggested that she might use her power to deny the Trump campaign a special events permit if it seeks to hold a rally in her city. Which, by the way, it has not.

This is what Horvath told The Times: “As a city we have historically welcomed campaigns on both sides of the aisle to come to West Hollywood. Again, we’re not trying to shut down anyone’s speech. But in the past, for example, we were approached by McCain’s presidential campaign to host an event in the city and we provided a special events permit, we made certain accommodations to allow that to happen. That’s not going to happen for the Trump campaign.”

Sorry, but denying the Trump campaign a permit that is available to other political speakers would be shutting down speech. (Just as it would be if a conservative mayor denied a permit for a Bernie Sanders rally.) Indeed, a discriminatory use of the permitting process would be wrong even if West Hollywood claimed to be responding to Trump’s past statements that seemed to encourage violence. The mayor has flirted with that argument, warning that “charged language can incite dangerous activity that puts our residents and neighborhoods at risk.”

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Ugly as it is, Trump’s past language doesn’t strike us meeting the definition of legal incitement. But even if it did, Eugene Volokh, a 1st Amendment specialist at UCLA’s law school, explains that West Hollywood “can’t deny him a permit for a rally because it believes that he has made illegal statements in the past, and because it worries that he’ll do so at the rally.”

West Hollywood’s attorney has suggested that Horvath was simply “expressing her distaste for hate speech that marginalizes and disrespects people” and says that the city would adhere to the 1st Amendment. The mayor should listen to her lawyer, and make clear that if Trump applied for a permit he would be considered on the same basis as any other candidate, regardless of whether she is horrified by his views.

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