Defending “disgusting speech” is part of civil liberties work, attorney says

Greensboro attorney Seth Cohen, who has represented clients in a number of high profile civil liberties cases, talked about his work defending the Bill of Rights during a session with Elon law students March 19. The program was sponsored by the ACLU chapter at the law school. Details...

Attorney Seth Cohen visits with a student following his March 19 program at the law school.
Seth Cohen, a partner in the firm of Smith James Rowlett & Cohen, LLP,visited with Elon law students during a program sponsored by the ACLU chapter at the law school March 19. Cohen has been involved with a number of prominent cases, including a Muslimwoman who refused to take an oath on the Bible in court; the RhinoTimes and its battle with the KKK; a Greensboro police officer accusedof racial profiling; and a high school student suspended for wearing aconfederate flag on her shirt.

Most of his work in these cases has been in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While the ACLU has the perception of being a liberal organization, Cohen said he actually views the group as conservative. “It’s sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights,” Cohen said. “What could be more basic than that?”

Being an ACLU lawyer sometimes means defending both sides of an argument, or defending speech or activity that the attorney may find personally offensive. Throughout its history, the ACLU has defending the right of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis to speak freely.

“You can’t pick and choose who you want to march down the street,” Cohen said. “The First Amendment is there for disgusting speech, ugly speech. You don’t fight about happy speech, you fight about ugly speech.”