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


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  1. Thank you for this letter. The the bill of rights and the first, second, fourth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution are too often treated as “rights of convenience”, that people support only when those rights align with their current desires. All of these rights need to be supported at all times, and in some cases will make people uncomfortable. People must be heard or we will have endless repetitions of situations such as the Covid lockdowns where hysteria leads to the erosion of our rights as a people. We must be ever vigilant and an absolutist approach to the bill of rights is appropriate.

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