Fall 1999

A Message from the Dean

A Discourse on Constitutional Law
The Journey of a Journal
On History and Heritage: John K. Castle
In Defense and Celebration of the First Amendment

Public Service at the Forefront
Lindback Adwardee: Bruce H. Mann
Snippets of History (1915 - 1951)
Celebrations: Alumni Reunion and Commencment

Symposium
Faculty Notes
Alumni Briefs
In Memoriam

Penn Law

If one of your major jobs were to monitor and expose the waves of hate drifting across the Internet, you might be tempted to go a little extreme in the opposite direction - say, proposing a clampdown on the Net's uncontrolled, nose-thumbing incitements to bigotry. But, not Elizabeth J. Coleman U74, Director of the Civil Rights Division of the Anti-Defamation League, and a benefactor and member of the Law School's Board of Overseers. Coleman heads the country's largest, most vigilant network devoted to chronicling bigotry of all sorts. The Internet in particular, she says, has bred hundreds of hate sites, run by "violently extremist groups" such as the neo-Nazi National Alliance. They are growing significantly, in part through the use of the World Wide web, e-mail lists, and chat rooms as recruiting tools. Yet Coleman, who maintains a bedrock belief in the soundness of the Constitution, especially First Amendment guarantees, erects a conceptual wall between hate crimes and hate speech.

"When the line is crossed so that people are put in fear of their lives" - as the Ninth Circuit Court agreed was the case with the 'Nuremberg Files,' an anti-abortion website which displayed wanted posters of abortion doctors - "you are into the realm of criminal conduct," she explains. "We have tons of laws in this country that say that motivation is a factor in sentencing, and that's really all we're talking about." In 1993, she notes, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the penalty-enhancement aspect of hate- crime laws modeled on an ADL prototype.

However, she cautions, "We believe the best way to address reprehensible speech is through more speech. I think there is a panic about regulating the Internet that is not healthy. The Internet is very scary because it's a marketplace of ideas - which is the beauty of the First Amendment - but there's no editor, no one establishing judgment. But if you start regulating it you run into that question of who decides. The good [of the Internet] outweighs the bad."


One method the ADL has developed for dealing with such unregulated vitriol is their HateFilter, a software package which, says Coleman, alllows parents to "choose not t invite haters into their home to talk to their children." It does not attack offensive websites, but blocks children's access to individuals or groups that, according to the ADL site, "advocate hatred, bigotry or even violence towards Jews or other groups on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, sexualorientation or other immutable characteristics."

Coleman sees a fundamental difference in the protection being afforded disparate minority groups today. When James Bird, a black man, was dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas, she says, "there was a hue and cry about the importance of hate crimes laws, evoking the days of lynchings." On the other hand, when Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was tied to a fence and left for dead in Wyoming, that hue and cry changed to "Who needs hate crimes laws? It's just political correctness. It's legislation run amok." In some states that have refused to pass hate-crime laws - including Wyoming - its pretty clear there's a bias, a sense that gay individuals don't deserve protection."

In addition to monitoring bigotry and drafting hate-crime legislation, the ADL strongly defends another bulwark of the First Amendment, the separation of church and state. "We have two thousand religions in this country and we do an unbelievable job of having them flourish," Coleman explains. "This is one of the most religious if not the most religious country in the world. I think the reason is simple - the wisdom of our forefathers in separating church and state."

The ADL forms alliances with mainstream Christian denominations, she notes, because they see the wisdom of a constitutional system which protects majority as well as minority religions. Coleman recalls an observation that when you "moosh together" church and state, it tends to degrade religion and corrupt the state.



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