Civil Rights » ADL Blogs
March 18, 2016 9

Seeking Justice: The Pardon of Leo Frank

This week marks the 30th anniver­sary of a sig­nif­i­cant event in ADL his­tory – the deci­sion by the Geor­gia State Board of Par­dons and Paroles to posthu­mously par­don Leo Frank.  Frank was the Jew­ish man­ager of an Atlanta pen­cil fac­tory who was falsely accused and wrongly con­victed in August 1913 of the rape and mur­der of Mary Pha­gan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the factory. leo-frank-anti-semitism

Anti-Semitism was ram­pant in the early 1900’s and Leo Frank’s trial attracted national atten­tion and sig­nif­i­cant press cov­er­age – includ­ing irre­spon­si­ble press out­lets that inflamed the pub­lic with base and sala­cious anti-Semitism.  The trial itself was infected with a pervasively-hostile and anti-Semitic atmos­phere – from the argu­ments of the pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney to furi­ous mobs shout­ing “Hang the Jew!” out­side the cour­t­house.  Leo Frank’s trial and con­vic­tion shocked and gal­va­nized the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity – and under­lined the impor­tance of the estab­lish­ment of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in Chicago in 1913 with a mis­sion to “to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all.”

Frank appealed his con­vic­tion – all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 7 to 2, that Frank’s con­sti­tu­tional due process rights had not been vio­lated.  Jus­tices Oliver Wen­dell Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes strongly dis­sented:  “Mob law does not become due process of law by secur­ing the assent of a ter­ror­ized jury. “

After all appeals were exhausted, Geor­gia Gov­er­nor Geor­gia John M. Sla­ton reviewed the case and com­muted Frank’s death sen­tence to life impris­on­ment. That coura­geous deci­sion in June 1915, enraged many and sparked riots in the streets.  Two months later, a mob of armed men kid­napped Frank from his prison cell, drove him over 100 miles to Mari­etta (Mary Phagan’s home­town) and lynched him.

Leo Frank lynching

Efforts to vin­di­cate jus­tice for Leo Frank were strength­ened in 1982, when eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann, who ran errands in the fac­tory as a boy, came for­ward to announce that he had seen the fac­tory jan­i­tor car­ry­ing Mary Phagan’s body to the base­ment on the day of her death.  The jan­i­tor had threat­ened to kill him if he told any­one.  ADL’s Atlanta-based South­ern Coun­sel, Charles Wit­ten­stein and promi­nent immi­gra­tion lawyer and national ADL leader Dale Schwartz led a vig­or­ous legal cam­paign to clear Frank’s name.  And on March 11, 1986, those efforts were rewarded with a par­don.  The land­mark deci­sion, how­ever, did not exon­er­ate Frank and prove his inno­cence.  Instead, Geor­gia par­doned Frank because of their fail­ure to pro­tect him and bring his mur­der­ers to justice.

 It’s hard to imag­ine a trial steeped in such anti-Semitism or racism today, but our nation is far from free of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant dis­crim­i­na­tion and hate crimes.  Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. famously said:  “The arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice.”  The anniver­sary of Leo Frank’s par­don is teach­able moment and a reminder that the arc does not bend by itself – peo­ple striv­ing for equal­ity and jus­tice – even jus­tice, delayed – need to bend it.

Tags: , , , , , ,

March 17, 2016 2

Tennessee Legislation Supports Church-State Separation in Public Schools

Tennessee’s state leg­is­la­ture is not known for mov­ing for­ward leg­is­la­tion strength­en­ing the wall sep­a­rat­ing church and state.  But ear­lier this week that is pre­cisely what it did by pass­ing a bill that man­dates con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards in teach­ing about reli­gion in pub­lic schools.

In recent years, the state leg­is­la­ture has enacted mul­ti­ple bills that pro­mote major­ity reli­gious views and under­mine the sep­a­ra­tion prin­ci­ple: a bill des­ig­nat­ing the Holy Bible as the offi­cial state book; back­door school prayer leg­is­la­tion; a mea­sure requir­ing post-secondary schools to sup­port stu­dent clubs that exclude mem­bers based on reli­gion; and a so-called “Aca­d­e­mic Free­dom Act,” which opens the door to teach­ing intel­li­gent design – a form of cre­ation­ism – in the pub­lic schools.


Based on this his­tory, the pas­sage of House Bill 1905, “An act rel­a­tive to … the inclu­sion of reli­gion in instruc­tion and cur­ricu­lum,” at first glance seems incon­sis­tent and sur­pris­ing.  The impe­tus for the bill, how­ever, mit­i­gates that incon­sis­tency.  It was filed in response to claims that a mid­dle school social stud­ies cur­ricu­lum crossed the con­sti­tu­tional line between teach­ing about and indoc­tri­nat­ing Islam.  No sim­i­lar claims were made about the course’s cov­er­age of other faiths includ­ing, Chris­tian­ity, Bud­dhism, Judaism, Con­fu­cian­ism, Dao­ism, and African religions.

Despite the ques­tion­able moti­va­tion behind the bill, on paper it is ben­e­fi­cial.  It cod­i­fies long­stand­ing con­sti­tu­tional stan­dards  by stat­ing that “[t]he inclu­sion of reli­gion in text­books, instruc­tional mate­ri­als, cur­ricu­lum, or aca­d­e­mic stan­dards shall be for edu­ca­tional pur­poses only and shall not be used to pro­mote or estab­lish any reli­gion or reli­gious belief.”  Most sig­nif­i­cantly, it requires “[t]eacher train­ing insti­tu­tions” to pro­vide can­di­dates with instruc­tion and strate­gies on how to teach about reli­gion in a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­mis­si­ble manner.

Our nation’s pub­lic schools are for all chil­dren regard­less of their faith.  In the­ory, HB 1905’s safe­guards should make Ten­nessee pub­lic schools more wel­com­ing and inclu­sive.  How­ever, in light of the state legislature’s his­tory and the rea­sons behind this bill, ADL has con­cerns that its pro­tec­tions will only be applied in teach­ing about minor­ity faiths.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

March 7, 2016 0

“Best Practices” and Counterspeech Are Key to Combating Online Harassment

On March 12, the Anti-Defamation League will play a key role at the first South by South­west (SXSW) Online Harass­ment Sum­mit.  In a series of pan­els at this day-long event, the Sum­mit will focus atten­tion on var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions of hate online, includ­ing every­thing from cyber­bul­ly­ing to the sale of offen­sive mer­chan­dise to hate speech on social media to online extrem­ist recruit­ment and pro­pa­ganda.  The over­ar­ch­ing goal will be to iden­tify the most effec­tive strate­gies to counter all of these forms of cyberhate.

SXSW screenshotADL rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Sum­mit will all focus on the Anti-Defamation League’s rec­om­mended approach to respond to hate online.  That approach, sim­ply stated, is that all of us – those in the indus­try who cre­ate the plat­forms and the tools, and those of us who use them – have a shared respon­si­bil­ity to pre­vent hate online when­ever pos­si­ble and to respond effec­tively when we encounter it.

There are two key com­po­nents to this approach: indus­try best prac­tices and effec­tive coun­ter­speech.  ADL’s experts will empha­size these two com­po­nents on five sep­a­rate pan­els at SXSW:


  • Indus­try Inno­va­tion and Social Respon­si­bil­ity – fea­tur­ing ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt;
  • How Far Should We Go to Pro­tect Hate Speech Online? – fea­tur­ing ADL Senior Vice Pres­i­dent for Pol­icy and Pro­grams Deb­o­rah Lauter;
  • Respond and Pro­tect; Expert Advice Against Online Hate – fea­tur­ing ADL Assis­tant Direc­tor for Cyber­hate Response Jonathan Vick;
  • Pro­fil­ing a Troll: Who They Are and Why They Do It – fea­tur­ing the Direc­tor of ADL’s Cen­ter on Extrem­ism Oren Segal; and
  • Tech and the United Front Against Online Hate – fea­tur­ing ADL Deputy Direc­tor of Pol­icy and Pro­grams Steven Freeman.

ADL will also be pro­mot­ing this mes­sage at other Sum­mit events, includ­ing a Shab­bat din­ner and a recep­tion co-hosted with Hack Harass­ment, a joint ini­tia­tive launched by Intel, re/code, Vox Media and the Born This Way Foundation.

ADL's Cyberhate Working Group

Some mem­bers of ADL’s Cyber­hate Work­ing Group.

To address the industry’s respon­si­bil­ity, ADL has pub­lished a set of Best Prac­tices intended to serve as a guide­post. In a nut­shell, these Best Prac­tices call for plat­forms to ensure that their rel­e­vant guide­lines on hate­ful con­tent are clear, that mech­a­nisms to flag such con­tent are user-friendly, that they will review and respond promptly to flagged con­tent, and that they con­tinue efforts to develop new tech­no­log­i­cal tools that could help them iden­tify a greater per­cent­age of the prob­lem­atic con­tent by themselves.

To address the respon­si­bil­ity of users, work­ing together with the indus­try, ADL has rec­om­mended that var­i­ous coun­ter­speech ini­tia­tives be given the high­est pri­or­ity.  These include, but are not lim­ited to, edu­ca­tional pro­grams, iden­ti­fy­ing and encour­ag­ing promi­nent voices to speak out, and cre­at­ing start-ups and new ven­tures designed to assist vic­tims in reclaim­ing a safe space online.

In advance of the Sum­mit, ADL is pleased that, Qui­zlet and Whis­per have agreed to join such major play­ers as Face­book, Google, Microsoft, Twit­ter, Yahoo and YouTube in endors­ing the Best Prac­tices.   We will be ask­ing oth­ers to fol­low their lead, at SXSW and after­wards.  Those who part­ner with us will send a   mes­sage that it is pos­si­ble to con­front cyber­hate effec­tively, pro­tect­ing the free flow of ideas that lies at the core of the Inter­net while at the same time ensur­ing that every­one can freely par­tic­i­pate in this unique forum with­out fear and with­out risk­ing their per­sonal safety or well-being.

Tags: , ,