Protecting the rights of others

Published 8:28 pm Monday, August 28, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

One of the great challenges in the United States today and in the past has been individual willingness to support our fundamental principles. Recently this has been particularly true regarding the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Another challenge has been and continues to be citizens not striving to be well-informed so that they can be responsible voters or elected officials.

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Hate groups have been prominent in the news lately. I personally know members of hate groups on both sides of the political spectrum. Although several have graduate degrees, none of them are terribly bright people, nor are they well informed about fundamental constitutional principles.

Members of hate groups only read literature or listen to news that supports their limited point of view. Their minds are not open to hearing any information that will require them to consider differing views or think for themselves.

There are many avenues of study responsible citizens can pursue, but two are particularly relevant regarding the violence in today’s news.

The first meaningful area of study involves learning more about First Amendment constitutional issues associated with rulings in the Illinois Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court dealing with Skokie, Illinois. Specific issues involve freedom of speech and the right of assembly.

A second area of study is learning more about the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC monitors domestic hate groups and other extremists. On the “Hate Map” section of its website, the organization identifies such groups by areas within states. There are five such groups listed in Hampton Roads. One is anti-Semitic; one is anti-Muslim; one is anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; and two promote racial elitism and segregation.

To march in public and exercise constitutionally protected rights of speech and assembly any group is required to have a parade permit. A city cannot prohibit the permit based on the group’s message or the content of the signs carried. The city assumes responsibility to ensure the group’s right to peacefully assemble and communicate their messages no matter how offensive.

“Peacefully assemble” does not mean the violence and arson seen in Washington, D.C. the day of the most recent presidential inauguration. It does mean the group will peacefully march along the designated parade route, they will not physically attack others, and others will not interfere with the marchers’ constitutional rights, no matter how offensive their message.

The current situation in Charlottesville highlights the issue of brightness. Can anything positive be said about the messages of hate promoted by the original organizers of the assembly? Such people are often found to be mentally unstable and to have violent tendencies. This can be seen in recent news.

But how bright is it to actively harass a group of mentally and emotionally unstable people? Although not often reported in the mainstream media, there have been successful demonstrations involving opposing groups separately marching peacefully in the same city while promoting radically different views dealing with the same issues. It is unfortunate this did not occur in Charlottesville.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at