Thursday, December 3, 2015

It Happened in Illinois

In honor of the anniversary of the State of Illinois’ entry into the union on December 3, 1818, Jewish Treats presents a brief overview of a 1977 Supreme Court case  that helped define the First Amendment that was to take place in Skokie, Illinois, that helped define the First Amendment: National Socialist Party of America vs. Village of Skokie. The case revolved around the decision of Frank Collin, the leader of the Nationalist Socialist Party of America (NSPA, better known as Neo-Nazis), to hold a march in Skokie, Illinois. His choice of location was not random as Skokie had a particularly large Jewish population.

In the 1950s, Jews from Chicago first began to move out to the suburb of Skokie, where there was a great deal of empty land and housing developments were just beginning. By the 1970s, nearly half the village was Jewish. Of the 40,000 Jews in residence, over 5,000 of them were Holocaust survivors.

When the city tried to stop the march by demanding high liability insurance and banning potentially-inciteful Nazi paraphernalia, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) protested that the city was suppressing the NSPA’s First Amendment right to free speech. The case went to court and the injunction against the Nazis was upheld both in the Illinois Appellate Court and in the Illinois Supreme Court. When the United States Supreme Court informed the Illinois court that it needed to safeguard freedom of expression, the Illinois judiciary reversed its decision and allowed the Neo-Nazis to march. They were even forced to permit the use of swastikas.

Following the court case, the march was scheduled for June 25, 1978, and plans were put in place for a counter-rally. Although they had won the legal right to march, the Neo-Nazis cancelled their plans and gathered in Chicago on a later date. Nevertheless, the fear of the pending gathering had already left its mark on the Jewish community.

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