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The many causes of the Charlottesville violence

By Laurence Maher - posted Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Another way of stressing the importance of how opinions on deeply controversial events can (and necessarily will) differ markedly in a free and open society is to be found in the US Supreme Court's 5:4 decision in Walker v Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans(2015). The dissenting opinion authored by Justice Alito (with whom Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Kennedy agreed) held that the State of Texas had engaged in viewpoint discrimination contrary to the First Amendment when it denied an application for a specialty motor vehicle licence plate which included the Confederate battle flag because many members of the public would find the flag "offensive".

Justice Alito underscored the importance of the clash of ideas and opinions in a democracy when he remarked that the Sons of Confederate Veterans saw the plates as honouring soldiers who served with bravery and honour in the past. Or is that an opinion which nowadays no fair-minded person could possibly hold or be allowed to express in public?

For the time being, visitors to the former Lee Park will be presented with the spectacle of a pedestal supporting a statue wrapped in a tarpaulin (likened by some observers to an over-sized garbage bin bag).

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The City of Charlottesville and several local businesses and community organizations commenced a case in the Charlottesville Circuit Court on 17 October 2017 against militia-like organizations and eleven individuals seeking injunctions and declarations on the basis that the defendants' activities were those of private armies which threatened to displace existing civil power. That proceeding is also pending.

It is to be hoped that the extremists on both sides of the statues controversy can be persuaded that their commitment to violence is intolerable.

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About the Author

L W Maher is a Melbourne barrister with a special interest in defamation and other free speech-related disputes. He has written extensively on Australian Cold War legal history.

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