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The Freedom to Be Racist?How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism$
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Erik Bleich

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199739684

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199739684.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 March 2021

American Exceptionalism and Its Limits

American Exceptionalism and Its Limits

(p.62) 4 American Exceptionalism and Its Limits
The Freedom to Be Racist?

Erik Bleich (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

To understand how the United States has balanced protecting free speech and curbing harmful speech, this chapter takes the long view. In the first half of the twentieth century, states had the latitude to pass and enforce laws that restricted wide varieties of speech on almost any grounds. Starting in the 1920s and 1930s, however, the Supreme Court began to rein in these provisions. After initial steps to protect controversial speech, decisions from the 1940s and 1950s created the potential to move in a more speech-restrictive, European direction. It was only rulings handed down during the 1960s and 1970s that strictly limited states’ and municipalities’ rights to curb racist speech and that entrenched America's extensive protections for freedom of expression. This outcome amounts to the most significant exception to the overarching trend in liberal democracies toward limiting the freedom to be racist. Even so, there are still limits on racist expression in the United States, and identifying them tempers the misconception that the United States permits racist speech under any and all circumstances.

Keywords:   freedom of speech, United States, Supreme Court, Skokie, workplace harassment, cross burning

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