Racist names meet the First Amendment in Minneapolis

Minneapolis officials are reportedly considering legal action to prevent the Washington Redskins name from being used at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Minnesota Daily reports that the city attorney is investigating whether the city has legal authority to ban the football team’s name and logo.

“I have my doubts,” said Cam Gordon, who represents the University and surrounding areas on the City Council.

He said there might be issues with the ban violating freedom of speech. And at a council committee meeting late last month, the councilman called the issue a “minefield.”

You think?

“It’s the most horrific name in sports history,” said Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement.

He’s right, of course. It is.

And hate speech can be suppressed without violating the First Amendment if it causes the listener to react violently. But, the Supreme Court has made clear that people still have a right to hateful speech.

That officials in Minnesota are being pressed to challenge that right is not without some irony because Minnesota has had more than its share of assaults on the First Amendment.

A 1992 case before the Supreme Court defined the difference between hateful acts of hateful speech when it overturned the conviction of a teenager for burning a cross on the lawn of an African American St. Paul family.

“Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his decision striking down a Saint Paul ordinance. “Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas — to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality — are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”

Minneapolis, too, has a central role in the definition of the First Amendment In the ’30s, journalist Jay Near — an “anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-labor” publisher of The Saturday Press in Minneapolis — contended a Jew was the biggest gangster in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Gag Law was used to make it a crime to publish or even work for a publication that was “malicious, scandalous and defamatory.” The Supreme Court overturned the law.

“We no longer want to take it,” Clyde Bellecourt said of racist mascots and names such as the Washington Redskins.

Which is his right, too.