Burning Question


Civil libertarian (and Reason contributor) Harvey Silverglate argues in the Boston Phoenix that upholding Virginia's ban on cross burning would not imperil freedom of speech. The actions targeted by the law, he says, amount to "threats, not mere insults." Phoenix columnist Michael Bronski disagrees. His piece is too stridently partisan for my taste, but he draws an interesting parallel between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' argument in favor of the law and the anti-pornography theories of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin.

Two other essays on the case that are worth a look, likewise taking opposite positions: Clarence Page's December 15 column and a December 24 Washington Times op-ed piece by D.C. attorney Bruce Fein. "As an African-American," Page writes, "I appreciate the emotional power of the burning cross as a symbol. I also resent the notion that any bonehead with a match, lighter fluid and a couple of sticks can send me into irrational spasms of rage." Fein, who usually takes a middle-of-the-road position on civil liberties issues (such as military tribunals and "enemy combatant" detentions), is surprisingly dismissive of constitutional concerns.

NEXT: End of Free Market

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  1. Wasn’t the “fighting words” arguement used by the Right to justify their attempted ban on flag burning?

  2. I am just a humble southern hemisphere lawyer and am ignorant of the finer points of first amendment arguments however i think it breaks down like this

    I If you put a big burning anything on someone’s lawn with intent to intimidate the f*** out of them because of whatever reason then you should be guilty of something;

    II If with your inbred mates you like to light up wooden whatever on your own property and in a way unlikely to give offence to other people then as we say bob’s your uncle



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