The attempted public rally by the National Socialist Party of America (neo-Nazis) during the late 70s in Skokie, Illinois, a predominantly Jewish town, brings to light a debate that has appeared many times throughout history; where does the right to free speech end? When does it turn from expressing one's beliefs to harassment? These are the questions that had to be answered by the court in the National Socialist Party of America vs. The Village of Skokie.
This momentous court case and the events leading up to it were sparked on October 4th, 1976, when the leader of the NSPA, Frank Collin, sent a letter to the Skokie director of Parks and Recreation Daniel D. Brown, requesting a permit for Collin and his band of Nazi sympathizers to hold a public rally in Skokie's Birch Park on November 6th. It is clear that Skokie was chosen as the sight of the march for a reason; 40,000 of its 70,000 citizens were Jewish and one out of every six was or was directly related to a Holocaust survivor. Skokie was chosen because that was where the most hate and terror could be spread.
The reply of the town of Skokie came on October 25th at a regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the Skokie Park District. The town simply wrote back to Collin claiming that Birch Park didn't exist. However, to protect themselves from any further attempts from the NSPA to spread their messages of hate, the town of Skokie passed an ordinance requiring all prospective marchers to obtain a permit at least 30 days before the date of the march and to post an insurance bond equal $350,000.
After a series of continued requests to march in front of Skokie town hall were successfully thwarted by Sol Goldstein, a Skokie community leader who was the son of a Holocaust survivor, the plight of the NSPA is taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union. The great irony of the ensuing case stems from the lawyer for the NSPA; a Jewish man named David Goldberger who was given the duty of defending the right of Nazis to terrorize his fellow Jews. Goldberger, who was harassed mercilessly by the citizens of Skokie for acting in Collins' interest, defended himself by arguing that the case was about the right to free speech and that this right must be protected no matter what.
The main argument from the ACLU was that Skokie's denial of the NSPA's right to rally violated their First Amendment rights. Skokie attorneys countered that for Holocaust survivors and those otherwise affected by it, seeing such hateful preaching was on par with physical harm. On October 21st of 1977, Judge Bernard Decker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rules in favor of Collin and the NSPA, saying that "if a State seeks to impose a restraint on First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review... Absent such review, the State must instead allow a stay. The order of the Illinois Supreme Court constituted a denial of that right," and prohibiting the village of Skokie from enforcing the ordinances it has passed to prevent the march. As a result of this ruling, several months later, on May 25th of 1978, the village of Skokie permitted Collin and his followers to hold a demonstration in front of the Skokie town hall on June 25th. However, Collin decided to call off the demonstration and instead march in Chicago, where he had recently received permission to march in Marquette Park on July 9th. In a big city like Chicago, the march would receive far greater exposure and a larger audience to preach to.