As a Jew and retired First Amendment lawyer, I write regarding the Montclair Civil Rights Commission’s request that the Montclair Public Library cancel a November 12 public forum organized by the North NJ Jewish Voice for Peace.
Personally, I am appalled at the moral obtuseness of Jewish Voice for Peace’s attempt to justify Hamas’ October 7 massive terrorist attack while that attack was occurring. I also disagree with Jewish Voice For Peace’s opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.
However, as the U.S. Supreme Court has often held, the Constitution’s First Amendment was designed to protect speech on governmental matters that the majority finds offensive or even outrageous. Mainstream ideas do not need First Amendment protection.
Contrary to the statement of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission, while terrorism is illegal, advocacy in favor of terrorism is protected by the First Amendment unless the speaker (1) sought to incite imminent lawless action AND (2) was likely to produce imminent lawless action. Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). Similarly, while harassing an individual is illegal, mere “hate speech” is also protected by the First Amendment. Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443 (2011).
As government bodies both the Montclair Public Library and the Montclair Civil Rights Commission must obey the First Amendment. In my opinion, they could be successfully sued if they censor North NJ Jewish Voices for Peace from using the Library’s public forum because of the organization’s alleged support for terrorism or hate speech.
Richard M. Gutman