nent” or there is reason to believe that the listeners will not take action. 13 This means that no matter how offensive or pro- vocative some forms of expression may be, this ex- pression has powerful constitutional protections. In 1977 a group of American Nazis wanted to parade through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a community with a large Jewish population. The residents, out- raged, sought to ban the march. Many feared violence if it occurred. But the lower courts, under prodding 100 Chapter 5 Civil Liberties Women picketed in front of the White House, urging Presi- dent Warren Harding to release political radicals arrested during his administration.
from the Supreme Court, held that, noxious and pro- vocative as the anti-Semitic slogans of the Nazis may be, the Nazi party had a constitutional right to speak and parade peacefully. 14 Similar reasoning led the Supreme Court in 1992 to overturn a Minnesota statute that made it a crime to display symbols or objects, such as a Nazi swastika or a burning cross, that are likely to cause alarm or re- sentment among an ethnic or racial group, such as Jews or African Americans. 15 On the other hand, if you are convicted of actually hurting someone, you may be given a tougher sentence if it can be shown that you were motivated to assault them by racial or ethnic hatred. 16 To be punished for such a hate crime, your bigotry must result in some direct and physical harm and not just the display of an odious symbol. ★ What Is Speech? If most political speaking or writing is permissible, save that which actually incites someone to take illegal actions, what kinds of speaking and writing qualify for this broad protection? Though the Constitution says that the legislature may make “no law” abridging freedom of speech or the press, and although some justices have argued that this means literally no law, the Court has held that there are at least four forms of speaking and writing that are not automatically granted full constitutional protection: libel, obscen- ity, symbolic speech, and false advertising. Libel A libel is a written statement that defames the char- acter of another person. (If the statement is oral, it is called a slander.) In some countries, such as England, it is easy to sue another person for libel and to collect. In this country it is much harder. For one thing, you must show that the libelous statement was false. If it was true, you cannot collect no matter how badly it harmed you. A beauty contest winner was awarded $14 million (later reduced on appeal) when she proved that Pent- house magazine had libeled her. The actress Carol Burnett collected a large sum from a libel suit brought against a gossip newspaper. But when Theodore Roo- sevelt sued a newspaper for falsely claiming that he was a drunk, the jury awarded him damages of only six cents. 17 If you are a public figure, it is much harder to win a libel suit. A public figure such as an elected official, an army general, or a well-known celebrity must prove