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Letters to the Editor: Hey, ACLU, the 1st Amendment isn’t just for progressives

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, speaks at the UnidosUS national convention in San Diego in 2019.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

To the editor: Columnist Nicholas Goldberg is right to insist that the American Civil Liberties Union should never diminish its commitment to defending freedom of speech, regardless of how vile.

The 1st Amendment is nonpartisan. It does not allow left wingers to ban speech they consider to be racist, even if the expression in question is indeed racist. It does not allow right wingers to ban the burning of one’s personally owned American flag, regardless of how outraged onlookers might become.

Some would argue that as members of society all of us have an obligation to limit expressions of hatred and bigotry that others would find gravely hurtful. The opposite is true. As members of society, we have an obligation not to allow our personal revulsion to push us to harness the power of the state to punish those who have expressed views that we find abhorrent.

Otherwise, the 1st Amendment would be reduced to nothing more than an umbrella that is taken away as soon as it starts to rain.

Edward Tabash, Los Angeles

The writer is a constitutional lawyer.

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To the editor: I’m becoming increasingly skeptical of what should constitute “free speech” in today’s world of social media and almost instant communication. My biggest concern has to do with the repetition of outright lies that incite violence or undermine our democracy.

Historically we know from bitter experience that lies repeated often enough can lead to dictatorships and totalitarian rule. They also have serious consequences for citizens (such as death threats received by many election officials and other politicians), businesses (such as the makers of voting machines and software) and our democracy.

This is a thorny issue that needs to be confronted before those who wish to protect free speech are silenced by those they seek to protect.

John Beckman, Chino Hills

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To the editor: As an idealistic young man in the 1960s, I remember admiring and supporting the ACLU’s principled stance on free speech. But in those days Nazis and white supremacists were lunatic fringe groups with no chance of popular support, making it easy to defend their rights on principle.

When scarily close to half the population sympathizes with their views, it’s another matter.

Robert Huber, Yorba Linda

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To the editor: Goldberg’s excellent column cites the conflicting voices of the progressives “who believe that free speech should take a back seat to other progressive priorities.”

In the face of criticism for defending noxious causes (like the right of Nazis and other white supremacists to march in public), the ACLU’s steadfast support for freedom of speech and protest is critical to our democracy.

We need to acknowledge that if one sheriff or state legislature can restrict a white supremacist rally, another sheriff or legislature can restrict a progressive march or speech. The 1st Amendment is key to all liberties, and the ACLU’s brave and successful fight in Skokie, Ill., in the 1970s was a shining example.

It is useful to remember George Orwell’s timeless observation: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Ken Goldman, Beverly Hills


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