NEW YORK—At a press conference Monday, American Civil Liberties Union officials announced that the organization will go to court to defend a neo-Nazi group's right to burn down ACLU headquarters.

ACLU lawyers Nancy Edelman and Harvey Gross talk to reporters about their fight to allow Nazis to burn down ACLU headquarters on Nov. 25.

ACLU president Nadine Strossen told reporters that her organization intends to "vigorously and passionately defend" the Georgia chapter of the American Nazi Party's First Amendment right to freely express its hatred of the ACLU by setting its New York office ablaze on Nov. 25.

"I am reminded of the words of Voltaire: 'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,'" Strossen said. "While the ACLU vehemently disagrees with the idea of Nazis torching this building, the principle of freedom of expression must be supported in all cases. If we take away these Nazis' right to burn down our headquarters, we take away everyone's right to burn down our headquarters."

Buddy Carver, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Nazi Party, praised the ACLU for taking on his case. "I would like to thank Ms. Strossen and all the other nigger-loving bleeding-heart liberals at the 'ACL-Jew' for defending my constitutional right to express my loathing of them with hundred-foot-high flames," said Carver, sporting a tan uniform and swastika arm band. "We must finish the job Hitler was unable to."

ACLU associate director Mel Rosenblatt agreed. "The real danger here is not the American Nazi Party," he said. "The real danger here is what would happen to the rest of us if the Buddy Carvers of this world were not allowed to commit arson against nigger-loving, bleeding-heart-liberal Jew attorneys."

Making the case all the more controversial is the neo-Nazis' demand that the ACLU's entire 315-person staff be in the building at the time of the blaze. Strongly opposing the request are New York City police commissioner William Bratton, fire chief Ed Holm and mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who said that all 315 will die if trapped in the 47-story building during the blaze. ACLU attorneys responded that they will request a federal appeals hearing if the City of New York attempts to stop them and their fellow ACLU employees from perishing in the Nov. 25 blaze.

"Yes, my loving wife Linda and three wonderful children, Ben, Robby and Stephanie, will be devastated when I am killed next month," ACLU attorney Harvey Gross said. "But I recognize that, in a very real sense, it would be a victory for Mr. Carver and his fellow hatemongers if I did not burn to death, because their terrible message of bigotry and intolerance would be all the more effective if suppressed."

The Carver case is one of several controversial legal battles with which the ACLU has been involved this judicial year. In State of California v. Tubbs, the organization defended the right of a San Francisco art gallery to display a piece of performance art in which innocent passersby are shot to death by gunmen. In February, the ACLU went to U.S. Appeals Court to defend the Grand Wizard of the Coahoma County, Mississippi, chapter of the Ku Klux Klan's right to beat a black man to death and spray-paint 'White Pride' across his chest.

"We can have no arbitrary setting of limits when it comes to the Bill of Rights," Strossen said. "The Constitution does not say, 'You have the right to express these opinions, but not those opinions.' Nor does it say, 'You can express these opinions by word, but not by violence.' For a free society to work, hatred, in all its forms, must be encouraged."