The only good thing that comes from tragedy is that it forces us to reflect. And the soul searching that results can lead to positive outcomes. The space program is safer today because of the investigation that followed the Challenger discovery. The relationship between the Cincinnati Police and the community, while not perfect, are held up as a model because of the reforms that followed the unrest in the early 2000s.
 
The flip side, of course, is when the reflection leads to overreaction. And so, following the Pearl Harbor bombing, our country sent loyal Japanese American citizens to internment camps. Safe to say, that kind of reflection is not productive.
 
And so, following the brutal murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville most of us engaged in serious reflection. To the extent that reflection motivated political, military and business leaders to call out the white supremacists behind the attack as well as politicians unwilling to condemn them, the reflection was a good thing.
 
Where it’s not such a good thing, though, is the efforts by some to blow by the First Amendment and ban hateful groups from rallying in public spaces. There’s nothing wrong with the impulse. It’s understandable. If these dim witted Neo Nazis never goose step through the streets of Cincinnati, that would be great with me.
 
But here’s the catch. Our country adopted the First Amendment over 200 years ago and it won’t tolerate most efforts to ban hateful speech uttered by hateful people. Hateful people typically don’t have much going for them (e.g. looks, brains, manners) but they do have First Amendment protection.
 
Our understanding of the First Amendment has evolved over time to the point where general advocacy of violence is permitted. It is only when the speech is a direct call to imminent violence — in a setting where the violence is likely to occur — that the First Amendment allows a government to stop it. The fact that group or a speaker pledges allegiance to a racist and even violent ideology isn’t enough to ban them from speaking out in public places. The “public square” holds a valuable place in our country’s history. Think of some of the most memorable speeches in our history that have been delivered outdoors — The Gettysburg Address, JFK’s inaugural address, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. These are the words that endure — for their power and eloquence. To hear them in a vast open space, filled with attentive listeners adds to their power. 
 
Even though the First Amendment requires that the broken spirited hate mongers have the same right to speak in the public square as do the giants among us, we can take comfort in knowing that those words will be as small, insignificant and forgettable as the hateful speakers who utter them.