Free speech is once again under attack in America. This time, the victims are not terribly sympathetic.
Under the banner of "unite the right", various white nationalist/neo-nazi groups will gather on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. There they will protest against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general in chief, Robert E. Lee, from Charlottesville's Emancipation Park.
They face two free speech obstructionists. The first offender is the room-sharing company, Airbnb, which has cancelled bookings made by event participants. Airbnb told the Washington Examiner that the "Airbnb Community Commitment" requires users to "accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age." Airbnb claims that the white nationalists are in breach of the commitment.
Of course, as a private corporation, Airbnb has the absolute right to restrict use of its residences on the basis of political opinion. And to be sure, I have some sympathy for Airbnb's desire to preclude morons like the "Nazi Uber" guy below from their offerings.
Still, I also believe Airbnb is adopting double standards here.
When I asked a spokesman whether Airbnb also prevented far-left Antifa protesters from using Airbnb residences, he avoided the question. Similarly, when I asked Laura Murphy, a former ACLU legislative director who helped develop Airbnb's "Community Commitment," for comment, she did not respond. This leads me to the conclusion that Airbnb is making subjective determinations about what forms of extreme politics are acceptable and what are not.
Nevertheless, the protesters have a far stronger case against the Charlottesville city government. Mayor Mark Signer claims that "Given the sheer numbers [of protesters] projected ... this event is incompatible with the dense and urban location of emancipation park which is right next to our Downtown Mall." He says "unite the right" must therefore hold its protest in a different city park.
The Supreme Court has ruled that government authorities can only restrict the time and place of events if doing so is "narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests," is "content-neutral" in restrictions applied, and leaves "open ample alternative channels of communication." I don't believe the city can justify its relocation on that basis.
Most obviously, "unite the right" want to protest at emancipation park because that's where the statue whose removal they are protesting is located. Moving the protest would not be a "narrowly tailored" ban or commensurate with an available "ample alternative."
In addition, with this group expected to be heavily outnumbered by counter-protesters. The city cannot claim a significant governmental interest justification for relocating them. Were they to do so, they would be preferencing the speech of the counter-protesters. That would be a self-evident breach of their "content-neutral" responsibility.
Moreover, it's not as if relocation is the city's best option. Why can't it simply contain the "unite the right" protesters in the park and keep the counter-protesters away from them?
I do not support the beliefs of "unite the right," but their rights must be respected. After all, if the union victory which they so lament stands for anything, it stands for the right of citizens to peacefully assemble to petition for their cause.