Tag Archives: first amendment

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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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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America’s Political (Dis)Harmony

I know it’s still January, but I’m already looking forward to March 26, when I’ll visit the fabulous National Constitution Center and participate in a program on Civility & Democracy. During that event, which will culminate in a public Town Hall discussion, we’ll have the chance to consider some essential questions of American identity and organization — questions that have been made even more timely in the wake of the public debate following the shootings in Tucson:

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Free Speech for Teachers? Think Again . . .

In case you missed it, there was a major case last week involving the First Amendment rights of teachers to make curricular content decisions. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling puts another nail in the coffin of the free-speech rights of public employees.

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Why We Celebrate — the (Religious) Origins of the Separation of Church & State

When New Amsterdam refused entry to a shipload of Quakers in 1657, the clergy of the Dutch Reformed Church were happy to be rid of them. In a letter to Holland, two church leaders speculated the Quakers had sailed to Rhode Island — “for that is the receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people, and is nothing less than the sewer of New England. All the cranks of New England retire thither. They are not tolerated in any other place.”

Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island would probably have taken that as a compliment. He envisioned Rhode Island as a haven for the cause of conscience, and the colony was the first place in America with no established faith, where every person had full religious liberty. It came as no surprise to him that dissenters, non-conformists, and “cranks” ended up in his colony. Where else could they go?

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