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Court Ruling on Nazi March in Skokie Denounced by Jewish Organizations

January 30, 1978
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More court challenges appear certain against the ruling last Friday by the Illinois Supreme Court that American Nazis have the constitutional right to display the swastika during protest marches in the heavily Jewish community of Skokie, a Chicago suburb, where 7000 survivors of the Holocaust now live.

The long-delayed ruling removed only one of the obstacles to a planned march by the National Socialist Party of America in Skokie. Other barriers are a series of ordinances adapted by the Skokie Village Council banning marches in military-style uniforms and requiring protesters to past a heavy bond before a demonstration. The State Supreme Court ruling, which overturned a lower court decision, was hailed by the Nazis and by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has represented the Nazis, and denounced by Skokie officials and Jewish organizations.

The State Supreme Court ruled that “the display of the swastika, as offensive to the principles of a free nation as the memories it recalls may be, is symbolic political speech intended to convey to the public the beliefs of those who display it.”

The lower court had ruled that the swastika could be banned on grounds that it constituted “fighting words” that might provoke violence. Skokie residents have warned they will not be passive if the Nazis march. However, the State Supreme Court disagreed, saying display of the swastika could not be banned “solely because that display may provoke a violent reaction by those who view it.” The court said Skokie residents could ignore the march if they considered it offensive.


Leaders of Chicago’s Jewish community reacted with disappointment to the ruling and with determination to continue opposition to it. David Smerling, president, and James P. Rice, executive vice-president of the Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Metropalitan Chicago, declared in a statement: “We are disturbed at the news that the court upheld the obviously flagrant use of a symbol that meant deliberate extermination to six million Jews and five million Christian civilians.”

They added that “for the courts to allow the citizens of Skokie–both Jews and Christians–who have already suffered the atrocities of Nazi Germany, to submit to further humiliation, is a sorry–almost unthinkable–turn of events.” They said they hoped the village of Skokie would appeal the decision and that if the village did not do so, “there are fortunately a number of other court cases that must be decided before the Nazi march on Skokie can become a reality.”

They cited the ordinances against the wearing of military-style uniforms, the $350,000 bond posting order and a Skokie ban on the dissemination of material that could incite hatred of a race or religion. These ordinances have been challenged in federal court here and a decision is expected soon. A decision voiding the ordinances is considered certain to be appealed.

Smerling and Rice also cited another case, initiated by Sol Goldstein, a Skokie resident and Holocaust survivor, who has applied for a permanent injunction against the proposed Nazi march. Goldstein, who brought the suit as a private citizen, said it would be unrealistic to expect that residents would stand idly by if the march was held. He said: “The swastika is a symbol of the destruction of Jews. Under this banner Jews were marched to the concentration camps and gas chambers.”

Goldstein, who is chairman of a Committee on Individual Liberty and Jewish Security of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of the Jewish United Fund, questioned whether the State Supreme Court ruling did not, in effect, abridge the rights of Holocaust survivors by suggesting they must avoid the offensive symbol.


Maynard Wishner, PAC honorary chairman, said “the legal issue must be considered in terms of a conflict of rights. I think that the Holocaust survivors in Skokie should be free from provocative taunting by those who, with their symbol, are applauding the commission of the most grievous crime in history, under the very eyes of the victims of that crime. This ought also be regarded as a precious human right that should not be denied the survivors.”

He asked whether, as the Supreme Court ruling suggested, it was “really possible” for survivors “to avoid exposure to this march” by “averting one’s eyes or stopping up one’s ears when your mind and all your being knows that this display is going on down the street from where you have sought to find refuge from memories of that horror.” He said he felt the question was “important enough to ultimately be decided by the highest court of our land.”

In New York, Justin Finger, assistant director of the civil rights division of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Skokie village officials had two options. He said they could petition the State Supreme Court for a re-hearing or they could take an appeal directly to the United States Supreme Court.


Also in New York, the American Jewish Congress said that if the Illinois Supreme Court decision is appealed, the AJCongress will file a friend of the court brief in support of a ban on the proposed Nazi march. Naomi Levine, AJCongress executive director, said that in such a brief, “we will urge that members of the Nazi Party be barred from marching through Skokie wearing Nazis uniforms or swastikas.”

Mrs. Levine said that “the flaunting of the swastika or a Nazi uniform in a community that includes so many Jewish citizens and Holocaust victims is not an expression of a constitutionally protected idea.” She called it “a provocative and insulting symbol which by its very nature inflicts injury and tends to incite an immediate breach of peace.” She also said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that “insulting” or “fighting words” are not protected by the First Amendment and that “we believe the high court will reach the same decision in the Skokie case.”

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