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Opinions & Commentaries

This case grew out of an address Terminiello delivered in an auditorium in Chicago under the auspices of the Christian Veterans of America. The meeting commanded considerable public attention. The auditorium was filled to capacity with over eight hundred people present. Others were turned away. Outside of the auditorium a crowd of about one thousand people gathered to protest against the meeting. A cordon of policemen was assigned to the meeting to maintain order; but they were not able to prevent several disturbances. The crowd outside was angry and turbulent. In his speech, Terminiello condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and vigorously, if not viciously, criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as inimical to the nation's welfare. Terminiello was found guilty of disorderly conduct in violation of a Chicago city ordinance and fined.


Petitioner made an inflammatory speech to a mixed crowd of 75 or 80 black and white people on a city street. He made derogatory remarks about President Truman, the American Legion, and local political officials, endeavored to arouse the black people against the white people, and urged that the black people rise up in arms and fight for equal rights. The crowd, which blocked the sidewalk and overflowed into the street, became restless; its feelings for and against the speaker were rising, and there was at least one threat of violence. After observing the situation for some time without interference, police officers, in order to prevent a fight, thrice requested petitioner to get off the box and stop speaking. After his third refusal, and after he had been speaking over 30 minutes, they arrested him, and he was convicted of violating § 722 of the Penal Code of New York, which, in effect, forbids incitement of a breach of the peace.


This is a simple case. Petitioners, accompanied by Chicago police and an assistant city attorney, marched in a peaceful and orderly procession from city hall to the mayor's residence to press their claims for desegregation of the public schools. Having promised to cease singing at 8:30 p. m., the marchers did so. Although petitioners and the other demonstrators continued to march in a completely lawful fashion, the onlookers became unruly as the number of bystanders increased. *112 Chicago police, to prevent what they regarded as an impending civil disorder, demanded that the demonstrators, upon pain of arrest, disperse. When this command was not obeyed, petitioners were arrested for disorderly conduct.


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