Maybe you noticed in tonight’s paper that the Supreme Court is hearing a case on whether a law banning cross burning (a la KKK) is a violation of free speech, or a legitimate way to “punish” what the SF Chronicle called “racial intimidation”. No less an entity than the ACLU is helping defend the free speech view.
We found it appalling that, in the early stages of the hearing, the Justices focused mainly on what constitutes free speech and whether it was fair to single out cross burning as the only example of egregious actionable behavior.
It took the only black man currently sitting on the Court, Clarence Thomas, to point out that historically, cross burning is far more than symbolic speech or even intimidation. It’s an unmistakable physical threat. Thomas didn’t speak out until halfway through the hearing. The other Justices listened. This changed the course and tone of the debate.
I attended a gun show at the San Mateo County fairground facilities in the early 1990′s. Much of the offerings were garbage exhibited by low-lifers peddling cheap imported ammunition, war surplus castoffs and fake Nazi memorabilia. One exhibitor was hawking paper targets with the circle-and-diagonal “ban the …” symbol, a pink triangle, and telescopic sight crosshairs superimposed over a crude drawing of a face that was represented as “gay”. The shooting target had the word “Kill fags” printed prominently on it.
I asked the exhibitor if the target was his. When he responded “yes”, I turned him in to the expo officials. They made him take it down. Five minutes later, it was up again. If that’s “symbolic speech”, then I would surely have a similar right to “symbolically” publish his name and address with detailed instructions on how to locate and detonate his gas main.
However else one may size up the individual justices, these men are intellectually acquisitive. What can it mean when eight white Justices get mired on “symbolic speech” that overtly and unmistakably threatens violence and death to innocent, targeted individuals?
I very recently read a pundit’s observation that the ACLU was the only organization in America that could go to court to defend an individual’s right to burn down the ACLU Headquarters. Sorry, ACLU. You need to get off the dime on this one.