The Supreme Court ruled that a city’s hate speech ordinance violated the First Amendment because it discriminated on the basis of the content of the speech.
Responding to a perceived increase in hate speech, many states, communities, and universities in the 1990’s passed ordinances outlawing expressions of hatred. St. Paul, Minnesota, passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to display a symbol such as a burning cross or a Nazi swastika with the intent of arousing anger or fear “on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender.” After Robert A. Viktora and other white teenagers burned a cross on the lawn of the only black family in the neighborhood, the teenagers were prosecuted under the city’s ordinance. The Minnesota supreme court upheld the ordinance, interpreting the document as a prohibition on the use of fighting words, which were not protected by the First Amendment.
By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. Writing for a majority of five, Justice Antonin Scalia
With the R.A.V. decision, it is difficult to see how hate speech legislation might be made to conform to constitutional standards. Conduct is another matter. St. Paul could have prosecuted Viktora and his friends with antitrespass laws. In Wisconsin v. Mitchell
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire
First Amendment speech tests
Speech and press, freedom of
Wisconsin v. Mitchell