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Collin v. Smith


Despite the fact that the Nazis had deliberately chosen a heavily Jewish community to march in, the courts stuck firm to the First Amendment principle that unpopular groups must be allowed to express their political opinions.

Prior to World War II, there was a small yet fairly significant Nazi movement in the United States, which grew out of the German-American Bund. After the war, the movement was discredited, and survived only due to the leadership of George Lincoln Rockwell, who was assassinated in 1967. As with other fringe groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, hatred and prejudice kept the National Socialist Party of America alive with a small but vocal membership. In the mid-1970s, to generate publicity and attract new members, Nazi leader Frank Collin targeted the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Skokie as a site for a series of marches and demonstrations.

Over half of Skokie's 70,000 residents were Jewish, and many were survivors of German concentration camps. Seeing Nazi marchers and the swastika was bound to bring back tragic memories. Skokie was initially successful in getting an injunction against any Nazi marches from the Illinois state courts, but the Supreme Court summarily dismissed the injunction as unconstitutionally infringing the Nazis' First Amendment right to political expression. Determined to protect its Jewish residents, on 2 May 1977, Skokie decided to thwart the Nazis by passing a series of municipal ordinances. The ordinances required any group wishing to stage a public demonstration to obtain $350,000 in liability and property insurance, and forbade the dissemination of racist literature and the wearing of military-style uniforms by group members during such demonstrations. The Nazis promptly took Albert Smith, president of the Village of Skokie, and other municipal officials to court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Collin v. Smith - Significance, Nazis Must Be Allowed To March, Further Readings