By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A state appeals court has upheld the right of a group of African-American men to continue staging hate-filled speeches on city-owned property near the Shops at Liberty Place.
A local group called the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge has received city permits to speak on the sidewalk near Liberty Place, at 16th and Chestnut Streets, voicing hatred toward whites, Asians, and other groups.
The owner of the skyscraper had sued, citing the speeches as a public nuisance.
Now, a panel of Pennsylvania Superior Court judges has upheld last year’s decision by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge Ellen Ceisler, who ruled that the group had a First Amendment right to continue.
The group’s attorney, James Funt, is pleased.
“This was a fringe organization whose messages, though abhorrent to some, were exercising First Amendment freedoms. We are a free society. Speech should be combatted with more speech. We don’t want to end up in a slippery slope because we want to chill the speech of another group because it’s more convenient or it’s not offensive,” he tells KYW Newsradio.
And Funt rejects criticisms that the group’s hate speech could incite violence.
“We are a civilized society. These organizations have the right to speak. And everyone has the right to speak back. And everybody should be doing that in a careful, modified, educated fashion. If we do that, we avoid the violence,” he said.
The attorney for Liberty Place could not be reached for comment. It was unclear if the building owners will appeal further.