Category Archives: First Amendment

The Good, the Bad & The Maybe on Charter Schools

Three recent articles seem to capture the promise and the peril of the charter movement all at once. First, there was my piece exploring the evolving case law that challenges the notion that public charters are indeed, under the law, public schools. Then there was the news from a recent study suggesting that charters are […]

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In Balancing Freedom and Security, A Tale of Two Cities

All this talk of Edward Snowden and the tension between freedom and security has reminded me that back in 2006, as part of a documentary history of First Amendment Rights in America, Section 215 of the Patriot Act was one of the book’s 37 primary sources.

I think what we wrote then has relevance now, but you, dear reader, will have the final word on that point. Enjoy –

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Origins of a Dream

Every year, we pay tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with school assemblies, community programs and – to the delight of students and teachers alike – a national holiday. Yet how many of us directly connect Dr. King’s heroism and accomplishments to his faith in – and use of – the five freedoms of the First Amendment?

Consider the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the iconic rally that introduced King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to white America – he had delivered those lines to black audiences many times before – and produced the most memorable petition for a redress of grievances in the nation’s history. Nearly every American is familiar with King’s speech that day. Many of us were asked to memorize it as students. But few if any of us were also taught about that day – and the Civil Rights Movement – in the specific context of our founding principles as a nation.

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Murdering Innocent Sikhs Does Not Make You a Patriot

Reading the initial reports of the mass shooting in Wisconsin that claimed six Sikh worshipers, I’m reminded of a little-known event from more than a decade ago. Taken together, the two events say a lot about where we are, and who we aspire to be.

It was September 15, 2001. The terrorist attacks that took down the Twin Towers and damaged the Pentagon had just occurred, and everyone felt angry, frightened, and shell-shocked. For Frank Roque, however, mere anger or sadness was an insufficient response; he wanted blood for blood.

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When it comes to the free-speech rights of teachers, the joke’s still on us

The good news is that Republican lawmakers in Arizona are now retreating from their recent proposal to require teachers to limit their speech to words that comply with FCC regulations on what can be said on TV or radio — a half-baked idea rightly characterized by one critic as the “most hilariously unconstitutional piece of legislation that I’ve seen in quite some time.”

The bad news is that, Arizona’s foolishness aside, when it comes to the free-speech rights of teachers, or any other public employee, the joke is still on us.

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Require kids to stay in school? Not so fast…

Anytime you hear government officials mandating new behaviors to a broad swath of the population, that mandate is likely to run afoul of the First Amendment. And so it is with President Obama’s announcement last night that all states must “require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Although Mr. Obama made other pronouncements about education — see Dana Goldstein’s good summary analysis in The Nation — the stay-in-school mandate was the one that caught my ear, since enforcing it would run afoul of both the United States Supreme Court and our historic commitment to religious liberty.

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Is this Occupy DC’s future?

It was a nightmarish image for any American President to consider – U.S. soldiers attacking U.S. veterans in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. But on July 28, 1932, Herbert Hoover believed it had to be done. “For many weeks,” he announced in a press statement, the veterans gathered in Washington had “been given every opportunity of free assembly, free speech and free petition to the Congress.” Now, he said, “in order to put an end to this . . . defiance of civil authority, I have asked the Army to . . . restore order.”

It had all started peacefully, three months earlier, when the first groups of First World War veterans gathered in the nation’s capital to demand early payment of a bonus Congress had promised them. The payment was not scheduled until 1945, but the veterans could not wait that long. As a result of the Great Depression, many had lost their jobs and been stripped of their life savings, leaving them struggling to keep their families from starving. Believing protest was better than idleness, large groups of veterans – who became known as the Bonus Expeditionary Forces (B.E.F.) – set out for Washington, D.C., to peaceably demand that Congress give them their bonus.

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BOOK TV Coverage of We Must Not Be Afraid to Be Free

This weekend, Book TV aired coverage of the March 19 discussion of my new book We Must Not Be Afraid to Be Free: Stories of Free Expression in America, which occurred as part of this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book. Aside from a few crowd shots, where it appears people are preparing to have […]

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What It Means to be Free

On a Saturday evening in March 1919, attorney Robert H. Jackson, age 27, attended a lecture at Jamestown (New York) City Hall. The lecturer, a lawyer named Winter Russell, was a somewhat prominent American Socialist. The lecture occurred in a period of global turmoil, devastation caused by the just-concluded Great War and, in the United States, ideological clashes, violence, law enforcement excesses and widespread unease.

Jackson, who had just completed a short term as Jamestown’s corporation counsel and was building a private law practice, attended Russell’s lecture by assignment. Jamestown’s mayor had appointed Jackson and other lawyers to serve on a committee that evening to “censor” the lecture. It was anticipated, at least by the mayor and other Jamestown leaders, that Russell’s speech might cause disruption and need to be shut down.

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The Wisconsin Teachers Protest: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

As school systems across the state of Wisconsin cancel another day of classes – the result of massive protests in Madison following Governor Scott Walker’s effort to strip educators of the bulk of their collective bargaining rights — I can’t help but think of the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right. Continue […]

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