Free Speech

Ira Glasser: Would Today's ACLU Defend the Speech Rights of Nazis?

The subject of the new film Mighty Ira explains why social justice warriors are wrong to attack free speech.


In 1977, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) went to court to defend the rights of American Nazis to march through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors. The ACLU defended the Nazis' right to march and won the case on First Amendment grounds, but at a high cost: 30,000 members quit the organization in protest.

The Skokie case cemented the image of the ACLU as a principled, absolute defender of free speech. The following year, Ira Glasser would become the organization's executive director, a position he would hold for the next 23 years while leading the charge against government regulation of content on the Internet, hate speech laws, speech codes on college campuses, and more. Now Glasser is the subject of a new documentary, Mighty Ira, that celebrates his time at the ACLU and his legacy of protecting free speech.

Retired since 2001, Glasser tells Nick Gillespie that in an age of cancel culture and wokeness, he's worried not just about the future of free expression but the future of the ACLU, too. In 2018, for instance, a leaked memo offered guidelines for case selection that retreated from the ACLU's longstanding content-neutral stance, citing as a reason to decline a case "the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values."

The 82-year-old Glasser fears that in becoming more political and less absolutist when it comes to defending speech, the ACLU is shrugging off a hard-earned legacy. "There is no social justice movement in America that has ever not needed the First Amendment to initiate its movement for justice, to sustain its movement to justice, to help its movement survive," he says. "[Former Rep.] John Lewis said that without free speech and the right to dissent, the Civil Rights movement would have been a bird without wings. That's historically and politically true without exception."

NEXT: Democrats Have a Massive To-Do List If Joe Biden Wins

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Ira Glasser: Would Today’s ACLU Defend the Speech Rights of Nazis?”

    Not only would Today’s ACLU not defend the speech rights of Nazis, I doubt Robby Soave would defend the speech rights of Nazis. Have you been reading Soave’s pieces over the years, Mr. Gillespie?

    The left has a twisted view of tolerance. They think a tolerant society is a society that won’t tolerate the speech rights of Nazis, but they’ve got it all backwards. A society that can’t tolerate the Redskins, much less the Nazis, is an intolerant society.

    1. Put in Soave and “free speech” into Reason’s search field, and find a few bazillion hits. Right off of the top…
      Administrators at CUNY and Duke Aren’t Going to Do Anything About Students Who Disrupted Events
      Speakers’ free speech rights threatened
      ROBBY SOAVE | 4.27.2018 4:22 PM

      And a TON more! What do YOU have?

      Keep in mind that “that’s not quite morally right or ethically nice” is ***NOT*** the same as “your speech should be PUNISHED by Government Almighty!”

      WHEN did Soave say that “your speech should be PUNISHED by Government Almighty”?

      1. I read the article.

        The question is whether Robby Soave supports the free speech rights of Nazis, and I don’t see where that article answers the question.

        1. It is factual reporting, not an editorial. I can quote the opinions of many-many people (along with facts and events), and NEVER report my OWN opinion… Historical consensus seems to be, the NAZIs killed 6 million or so Jews, along with “Roma”, the handicapped, gays, political opponents, etc. FACT, not opinion or editorial… Is there room for this kind of writing, or is it highly suspect? Maybe we should call the ACLU in on this, and see where they stand?


          WHEN did Soave say that “your speech should be PUNISHED by Government Almighty”?

          1. Your article answers a question I didn’t ask.

            Does Robby Soave support the free speech rights of Nazis?

            That’s the question.

            1. Yes, he does! The (implied, but heavily implied) answer is given by the search-string in…

              Put in (Soave and “free speech”) into Reason’s search field, and find a few bazillion hits. NONE of which invoke or promulgate Government Almighty FORCE to punish wrong speech!

              1. You’re answering for Robby by inference now?

                Because you want things to be true, doesn’t make them so.

                And do you want Robby to support the speech rights of Nazis?

                Do you support the speech rights of Nazis?

                1. I support the free speech rights of one and all! As I believe (from the evidence that I have read) does Soave also!

                  My free speech rights include saying “NAZIs are full of shit, and I disagree with them, but forcibly shutting them up is counter-productive”!

                  And Ken, I know that you agree with the heart and core of that as well, so WHY are you falsely accusing Soave of that which he has never written?

                  1. “I support the free speech rights of one and all!”

                    Then why are you a racist who hates black people?

                    1. Well. all racists hate black people so he was forced into it.

                    2. I make up to $90 an hour on-line from my home. My story is that I give up operating at walmart to paintings on-line and with a bit strive I with out problem supply in spherical $40h to $86h… someone turned into top to me by way of manner of sharing this hyperlink with me,PPA so now i’m hoping i ought to help a person else accessible through sharing this hyperlink…

                      ===========► Click here

          2. Historical consensus seems to be, the earth’s climate is warming because of human activity (and, perhaps, that forced changes in activity might slow or reverse that trend).
            So, if you challenge that, you’re a Nazi (or climate denier).

      2. Do you think Reason would support an “Everybody Draw Mohammed” contest today?

        1. They have NOT taken down this web page! So I assume that they are still supporting free speech!

          1. And they wouldn’t even initiate it today.

          2. “assume”

            You know what they say about assuming… it makes you look like a racist idiot.

    2. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this Agh month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions……….Click here

    3. Robby wouldn’t and he’s Reason‘s resident MAGA-Chud Trumptard.

    4. All of Reason’s writers have been minimizing big tech’s censorship of conservative voices. They poo-poo it whenever they do address it, say it’s no big deal, and give it scant coverage.

    5. Even Germany has outlawed this type of language.So,yes they would have !!

    6. I quit working at s3hop rite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45 to 85 per/h. Without a doubt, this is the easiest and most financially rewarding job I’ve ever had. I actually started 6 months ago and this has totally changed my life.

      For more details………………Visit Here

    7. Google paid for all online work from home from $ 16,000 to $ 32,000 a month. The younger brother was Aby out of work for three months and a month ago her check was $ 32475, working at home for 4 hours a day, and earning could be even bigger….So I started……Visit Here

  2. It wasn’t unanimous that the ACLU would defend the speech rights of Nazis then. My understanding is a bunch of people resigned over it. The ACLU has a long history of being wobbly on free speech. In response to the ACLU’s fighting of campaign finance reform laws in the 90s, a long list of former ACLU bigwigs signed an open letter excoriating the (then) ACLU leadership’s decision to fight it in court. Apparently, some things and issues are just too important be left to freedom and liberty.

    1. The ACLU defended the Nazi’s right to march and won the case on First Amendment grounds, but at a high cost: 30,000 members quit the organization in protest.

      Now I’m reading the article. I had no idea it lost 30,000 members. How many members did the aclu have in 1977?

      1. Quick Wiki
        By 1964, membership had risen to 80,000…current membership is more than 1.2 million
        So it sounds like they may have once had a principled core, but now are overwhelmed by people who hate liberty.

        1. In other words, leftists on a mission, using the cost of fighting their incessant lawsuits as a weapon to force compliance. The courts are a scale to some, a hammer to others.

    2. Charity is market driven industry.

      There were still plenty of honest liberals making donations back in days when society could tolerate Archie Bunker on broadcast television.

      Not so much anymore.

      It isn’t about the leadership so much as it’s about the grassroots. The honest liberals are gone. Liberals who are willing to give to an organization that defends the speech rights of Nazis because they believe in the principle of free speech–there’s just not much of a market to serve there anymore. The left isn’t even merely authoritarian anymore. They want the government to control what we say, what we think, and how we feel.

      1. “The left isn’t even merely authoritarian anymore. They want the government to control what we say, what we think, and how we feel.”


      2. The word you’re looking for is: totalitarian.
        Welcome to the party, pal.

        The left in the 70s could be “principled” about freedom because the left was the counter culture.
        Since then it’s gained utter dominance of all cultural establishments.
        The left is The Man.
        And it tolerates no independence.

        1. ^ This, aspiring to be The Man, at least.

  3. I feel confident in saying that the left cares not because they believe they already control education, the media and the internet. And they may in fact be correct not to worry about ceding control over communications if they win back the WH and Senate. A generation of inculcation to progressive causes has made any chance of fighting back against the evil left even slimmer.

  4. “the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values.”

    I was glad to see that ACLU rep being taken to task in the REDDIT AMA by gay people with the Linda Sarsour controversy.

    They correctly pointed out that it would be fine to defend Sarsour’s right to speak, but the ACLU went further and publicly said that Sarsour “shares ACLU values”.

  5. Reason is asking a question to which it already knows the answer:

    1. Duh. TFA even says so.

      1. Thank you.

      2. So maybe you should be “duh”-ing at the idiot who asked the already answered question SQRLSY, you fat fucking racist incel.

  6. I remember a case back in the 90s regarding women in the Officer’s Academy– which they won. The woman who was repped in the case washed out within a few days because standing at parade rest in the sun was hard.

    The ACLU rep groused that the whole point of the case wasn’t to achieve equality, but achieve social justice for historically aggrieved and oppressed minorities.

    The fact that the ACLU has on occasion, accidentally veered towards an argument that libertarians can be sympathetic with is just that– an accident.

    1. My understanding, as an intermittent observer only, is that the ACLU defended free speech because it was founded by communists and socialists to defend their own right to speak out. The Nazi defense was near the end of that era when it was no longer quite so terrible to be a communist, especially after the Vietnam War had made such fools of the major parties. Ten years later, with Reagan in the White House, they probably would not have defended the Nazis.

      1. It was. The ACLU always was, and still is, mostly an organization for communists. I read an article length history of the ACLU back in the… late 80s (which extolled the ACLU as a great civil rights org) but couldn’t ignore the fact that ultimately, it was formed to protect the speech rights of communists. I actually don’t have a problem with that. It was the content-neutral fig leaf which is what gave me any respect for them. The fact they were able to hide behind the first amendment was really just a detail to me– but an important detail in that they were defending an American ideal.

        But ultimately, Social Justice has no room for individual liberty. It has no space divergent points of view. At some point, eventually, an organization whose highest ideal is Social Justice and “Equity” will abandon any temporary flirtation with liberty.

        1. Individualism can simulate socialism with contracts. Socialism cannot simuate individualism, let alone tolerate it.

          1. Right but you’re a racist SQRLSY.

            1. Makes $140 to $180 per day online work and i received $16994 in one month online acting from home.BFd I am a daily student and work simply one to a pair of hours in my spare time. Everybody will do that job and online makes extra cash by simply You can check more.

              open this web….Click here

        2. I think the distinction is that back in the70’s the liberals were not in control. They were the ones who benefited from an absolute defense of free speech. Yes, a compromise was staying “absolute” and defending Nazi’s.

          Why bother today? They are in control and will do all they can to squash dissenting speech.

  7. For the best left-libertarian analysis of free speech issues, I recommend Reason contributor Noah Berlatsky’s piece Is the First Amendment too broad? The case for regulating hate speech in America.


    1. This is why you’re my favorite troll. I’m a big fan of using “Reason Contributor” as part of the byline when pointing out their other ‘uncomfortable’ work.

      1. “Reason contributor Noah Berlatsky” never gets old

  8. ‘Is shrugging off a hard-earned legacy,’ the sun set on any semblance of that ACLU decades ago. The current iteration is far more about rights for the few, not all, and liberties for fewer, if their words and actions are any indicator.

  9. Would Today’s ACLU Defend the Speech Rights of Nazis?


    1. Yes, they would. They would be the Nazis that are marching.

  10. My way of looking at it is, if we need to have this debate, then it’s already too late to have it.

    For over 200 years, the whole fucking country was all but free speech absolutists. It was part of our DNA. You were weaned with the 1st Amendment smeared on your pacifier. What ever else was subject to question, free speech absolutely wasn’t.

    America is effectively dead. You can make what ever laws you want, you can write whatever constitution you please. But once you’ve lost your mojo, you’re done. There’s no way in hell the country I live in today is the legitimate heir to the one I was born in. Not even close!

    1. Well, we have never had “free speech absolutism” in this country. In the past it’s always been illegal to say some very forbidden things. Flag burning was illegal for a while. Books were banned. Kids were forced to recite pledges in class (which is forced speech). Only recently have we had an era of relative “free speech absolutism”.

      1. Wait, are you trying to let the left off the hook for abandoning free speech–because they were never really 100% in favor of free speech before either . . . like really?!

        Does that work with any other arguments, like, say, racism?

        Well, yeah, those folks may be racist, but then they’ve always been a little racist–so we need to look at it in context–is that what we’re supposed to think?!

        Fuck that noise. The left has gone from being generally supportive of free speech to openly hostile to speech rights. Fuck that noise and fuck them, too.

        1. Ken, I did not say anything about “the left” in my comment, let alone try to “get them off the hook”. I think perhaps your FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS are interfering with your reading comprehension.

          Maybe you should calm down, get a grip on yourself, re-read my comment, and then make a reasoned comment instead of your emotional drivel above.

          1. Hi I know you’re stupid and Ken is going to eviscerate you but this article and discussion is about the left, please try to keep up dumbfuck.

            1. As if you really cared what the real subject of the discussion is – because no matter what it is, you would just make something up in order to generate an argument – the subject of my comment is about so-called ‘free speech absolutism’.

              1. Well he pointed out what the topic is and that you changed it, so he apparently does care, liar.

              2. You seem upset that you made a fool of yourself.

            2. I’m glad you made peace with Ken instead of threadstalking him for a month like you did that one time cause he said that you weren’t sufficiently in favor of open borders. Good on you man!

              1. And of course you whine like a bitch because you looked stupid.

                “I’m glad you made peace with Ken”

                Who the fuck is Ken you fat incel?

                1. 8:59 pm: “Ken is going to eviscerate you.”
                  12:10am: “Who the fuck is Ken?”

                  This is my good buddy Ken.
                  Where did you and Ken meet?

      2. “Well, we have never had “free speech absolutism”

        God dammit you’re a stupid asshole

        “For over 200 years, the whole fucking country was all but free speech absolutists.”

        Learn to read and ACTUALLY REPLY TO WHAT YOU ARE READING you fucking nonce.

        1. So how do you interpret the rest of Nemo’s comment?

          1. You still can’t read then?

            1. The great thing about Lying Jeffy, is that even though he’s best known for being dishonest, he’s also very dumb. So much so, that if he wasn’t so dishonest, he’d be well known for being dumb.

    2. For over 200 years, the whole fucking country was all but free speech absolutists.

      Absolutely not. The level of legally-protected speech that Americans enjoy today is maybe 50 years old, if that. See the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln shutting down newspapers, Schenck v US, etc.

      1. We’re capable of monitoring each other’s speech like we never could before. The government didn’t try to regulate social media to keep out speech before because social media didn’t exist before. When you wrote letters to your friends, the chances of it being posted to the internet and read all over the world was zero because the internet didn’t exist. People couldn’t be cancelled because of their digital communications because there were none. Communicating with other Americans the way average Americans do has never been so dangerous for average Americans. Saying something racist, homophobic, or sexist online today is probably more dangerous to the average person’s career than saying something communist was during the Red Scare by average people.

        1. So, soon all anyone will post on social media will be cute puppy and kitten photos, but that might trigger those with allergies.

      2. “The level of legally-protected speech”

        Why do you asshole idiots always conflate the views of the populace with the law?

        Are you fucking illiterate?

        1. I did no such thing, which you’d know if you could read at higher than a 5th grade level.

          Also fuck off, take your meds Tulpa, etc, etc.

          1. Please stop crying, you didn’t have to totally fuck up such a basic concept and you have only yourself to blame?

            “I did no such thing”

            ““The level of legally-protected speech

            You did exactly what I said you gross cuck.

            “take your meds Tulpa”

            So is this Tulpa like Ken, someone who made you look stupid? He live in your head rent free does he?

            1. >>He live in your head rent free

              sure looks like it

            2. I forgot which idiot uses bignose as a sock?

            3. Be fair
              bignose makes himself look stupid.

                1. So does SQRLSY the enchanter.

  11. I hate Illinois Nazis.

  12. Start making cash right n0w…. Get m0re t!me with your family by d0ing j0bs that 0nly require for y0u t0 have a computer and an internet access and y0u can have that at y0ur h0me. Start bringing up t0 $8668 a m0nth. I’ve started this j0b and I’ve never been happier and n0w I am sharing it with y0u, s0 y0u can try it t00. Y0u can check it 0ut here…

    ==========================➤Visit Here

  13. Trump just appointed a quarter of the judiciary. I think the Nazis are going to be just fine.

    1. Stupid comment.

    2. Pod…it hurts, I know. But here is the judicial scorecard.

      3/9 SCOTUS Justices (33%) – Yes, ACB will be confirmed
      53/180 Circuit Court judges (~30%)
      161/680 District Court judges (~22%)
      There are currently 31 additional district court judges in various stages of the process. They’ll be confirmed by years end.

      There are more article 1 and article 4 judges. I did not count them.

      1. Lol. One thing you can always count on is coming to Reason and getting a chuckle out of something stupid Pod said.

    3. Well yeah Trump judges follow the law so yes you’ll be fine.

  14. In the 1970s, public Nazis would have a hard time getting a lawyer.

    Today, that’s no longer the case, as Republican lawyers would be more than happy to stand in line for the chance to defend an avowed Nazi.

    That is to say… the ACLU defended the free speech of Nazis when no one else would. Today, Nazis don’t need the ACLU, so I won’t begrudge them for letting people more eager for the work to do so.

    1. It was a lame attempt on your part.

      Trolling takes work. Keep trying though.

    2. You tried. That should count. It doesn’t but it should.

    3. The ACLU has its hands full defending rioting communists.

      1. That’s the National Lawyer’s Guild’s job!

        1. I’m sure there’s plenty of overlap on that Venn diagram.

          1. The NLG was set up during an interval when the ACLU wasn’t radical enough by the pinkos and com-symps and commies. That is no longer a cause for concern, but organizations don’t simply dissolve or merge as easily as they were set up.

            1. ACLU lawyers don’t have to march to Tucker Carlson’s front yard amid a cacophony of drums, bullhorns and cowbells or risk getting kettled and pepper-sprayed at a BLM riot. That’s the NLG’s bailiwick.

  15. “went to court to defend the rights of American Nazis to march through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors”

    From the accounts I read, the Nazis wanted to stand around on the sidewalk and shout their slogans and wear their uniforms. I don’t think they went so far as to want to march through neighborhoods. But when you hear about National Socialists, people just think marching.

    1. That was their apogee. Now they just hang around street corners, long for their days of glory [when they had an army, an air force, and a navy], and maybe kick someone who is found off by themselves.

      Of course the term “Nazi” has recently become so diluted it pretty much applies to anyone found lacking in wokeness.

      1. If you’re white, it’s the default state, according to the left.

    2. It was a small group. Pretty pathetic bunch really. They applied for a permit to have a rally in a park in Skokie. That was how the legal battle started. The city quickly passed some ordinances which would have made it impossible to get a permit and it went from there.

  16. From 1940, when they said commies could no longer be on their board, to the 1970s, when they apologized for what they did in 1940, the ACLU could be considered part of the anticommunist left – “Cold War liberals” to use what, tellingly, was considered as an insult in leftist circles.

    Now we can say that 1940 to the 70s was a hiccup in what was otherwise a commie- and pinko- friendly history.

    Even some of the com-symps were willing to “even” defend right-wingers – to signal that extremist views were entitled to protection. That attitude seems to be disappearing.

    Not to mention that they’ve for a long time been branching out from their core commitment to free speech and due process and advocate for “rights” like abortion, gay marriage, and the like.

    Though founded as a legal-defense outfit for dissident leftist speakers, the ACLU has taken on lots of extra causes so that I’d bet the free speech stuff seems old and stuffy to them, though I suppose they can work up some enthusiasm for defending Drag Queen Story Hour.

  17. I Start Business Online with USA Countries.Please…. Read More.

  18. Glasser was an uber-lib I could respect. He has been out of the game for a long time now.

  19. Good interview. I fervently hope that I’ll be as sharp and funny as Glasser when I’m 82.

  20. I joined the ACLU in the late 1970s (because I supported their defense of the 1st Amendment for all Americans).

    But haven’t given the ACLU any money since the 1990s because they became an organization that began to defend the 1st Amendment rights for only left wingers.

    The organization is now far left wing.

  21. “…of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values.”

    Thereby deftly putting anyone they don’t agree with into a category with “white supremacists”

    1. 0.01% actual white supremacists, the rest are simply icky people who ain’t woke.

  22. Actually for some reason the Nazis never did have their rally in the Jewish neighborhood of Skokie. For some reason they turned back at the last minute.

    I was in school there then. We were young guys and the Jewish Defense League was active in the area. Could have been very ugly if they had shown up.

    They did have several in a park in Chicago until the city, citing potential violence forced them to put up a large bond which they could not afford. So that was the end of it.

  23. The ACLU ARE today’s Nazis.

    1. they and their fellow cancel culture nazis …….. ie democrats

  24. Th ACLU might defend the free speech rights of Nazis, but only because there are only about 20 Nazis in the country, no one takes them seriously, and they are not a threat to the Left’s political power.

    In fact, the existence of a few Nazis is very useful to the Left. If there were no Nazis, the Left would have to invent some.

    But the ACLU will not defend the speech rights of conservative Christians. “BAKE THE CAKE, BIGOT!” ‘NO PROTESTING WITHIN 1000 FEET OF THAT ABORTUARY!”

    1. The FBI certainly takes them seriously. The Bureau considers rightwing and white-supremacist domestic terrorists to be the primary threat on their radar, and the statistics bear them out, with about 75% of attacks due to such groups.

  25. “If Americans were kidding when they approved the First Amendment, then there must be a master race somewhere in America!”

  26. The ACLU is no more than an attack dog for democrat politics at this point. They gave up their original purpose long ago.

  27. Clearly the ACLU has learnt from experience. Nazis marching past the homes of holocaust survivors infringe upon the liberties of holocaust survivors. White supremacists ranting “Jews will not replace us” likewise, and the liberties of blacks, women, gays and pretty much everyone else they threaten at the same time.

    Reason has this persistent blindness about the need of one liberty to accommodate another. Marking one liberty as “absolute” and subordinating every other which conflicts with it is a violation of liberty in itself. Nor is the state the only, or even the primary, way in which 1,000 tyrants a mile away can oppress as easily as one tyrant 1,000 miles away.

  28. Useful information found here thanks for sharing with us!

Please to post comments