The KKK Canary: How We’re Losing Our Freedom of Speech First Amendment allows even reviled groups right to ‘hate speech’ By Selwyn Duke
If Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came” was rewritten for today’s free-speech battles, would the Ku Klux Klan be in the first line? It’s hard to think of a more unsympathetic group, yet tyranny often starts small, sometimes targeting first those that are liked the least. A current court case involving the KKK serves as a warning: We are slowly, incrementally losing our freedom of speech.
At issue is the story of 22-year-old William D. Schenk, who spent five months in a Vermont jail after leaving Klan recruitment fliers at the Burlington homes of two women, one black and one Hispanic. Authorities accuse him of “targeting” the ladies, and in April 2016 he pleaded no contest to “two counts of disorderly conduct, enhanced by a hate crime penalty based on prosecutors’ belief that Schenk was motivated by the victims’ race,” reported the Burlington Free Press.
This plea was entered, however, under the condition that Schenk could appeal a judge’s decision to not dismiss the charges. That appeal is now being heard by the Vermont Supreme Court.
Unsurprisingly, the facts of the case are in dispute. Schenk claims he distributed the fliers to 50 homes; police say they found no recipients but the two minority women. Deputy Chittenden County State’s Attorney Aimee Griffin said it could be “inferred” that he targeted the women; Associate Justice John Dooley noted that there’s no evidence Schenk knew the two women were minorities. Schenk is a North Carolina native and states that he conducted a similar recruitment drive in his home state.
What’s not in dispute is that if Schenk had been recruiting for the Republicans or Communist Party USA, he never would have landed in the dock. As the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) put it in papers filed on his behalf, “[T]he government seeks to punish Schenk based solely on the content of his speech.”