Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Freedom for thought we hate

By Nat Hentoff

Having been removed as editor of my college newspaper at Boston's Northeastern University by the president who thought I took the First Amendment too seriously, I have been a First Amendment enthusiast ever since, including writing books about it. I can now attest that the most accurate and enlivening account of its history and often extraordinary resilience is the newly published "Freedom for the Thought That We Hate" by Anthony Lewis.

Part of the title comes from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' warning of the most powerful need of the First Amendment, especially in times of national danger and epidemics of speech-suppressing political correctness: "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate." I commend the title and the Lewis book to Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is still trying to get his expanded "hate speech" legislation to become law. It adds extra prison time not for the actual conviction for violent acts but for the "hateful" speech accompanying them as interpreted by police and prosecutors.

Once our republic began, James Madison expected that no American would be punished for his "thoughts." But "hate crimes" laws vigorously and incredibly supported by the American Civil Liberties Union are what Madison feared. If these added penalties for thought crimes, also passed overwhelmingly by the House, get to the Oval Office, the president should veto the legislation.

For many years, Mr. Lewis, twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was a nonpareil reporter and analyst of the continuous First Amendment wars in his New York Times column. I do not understand his removal from that sentry post since that paper now has no regular columnist with Mr. Lewis' legal and First Amendment history credentials.

Justice William Brennan once told me when I was talking about the Bill of Rights in schools around the country, "Tell them stories!" That's what Mr. Lewis does in "Freedom for the Thought We Hate." How many Americans know that before the Constitution and our revolution, "Massachusetts hanged Mary Dyer for her Quaker views"? I would add that before Thomas Jefferson and Madison surfaced in Virginia, Catholics were not allowed to hold office and priests were barred from even entering the colony.

Mr. Lewis also dramatizes why and how "it took more than a century for [our] courts to begin protecting speakers and publishers from official repression in the United States." And showing the continuing struggle to interconnect rights of privacy and speech, he quotes Justice Stephen Breyer that "the right to be let alone" encourages us to speak freely during those times "when we fear that our private conversations may become public." But the founders couldn't have predicted the advent of computer technology and government databases, and how we may be approaching the last rites of privacy.

Mr. Lewis brings into the conversation a 1927 opinion (Whitney v. California) by Justice Louis Brandeis, joined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, that affected me with the thrill of Americanism when I was a youngster. It had the freedom force of Louis Armstrong's trumpet: "Those who won our independence... believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty... and that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people, that public discussion is a political duty. They knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction.... They eschewed silence coerced by law." And in this age of terrorism, as before in our history when we were menaced from within and from afar, "Fear of serious injury cannot justify [government] suppression of free speech and assembly."

As in Salem, Brandeis wrote, "Men feared witches and burnt women." To which George Orwell added: "If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be prosecuted, even if laws exist to protect them." That's why I hope large numbers of Americans, of all ages, will read Mr. Lewis's odyssey of why we are Americans.

He acts on what he writes about. On his current book tour, he spoke before the American Library Association at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center. The ALA's leadership has resolutely refused - in contrast with library associations throughout Europe - to demand that Communist Cuba immediately release the independent librarians it has imprisoned for opening private libraries for books banned by this dictatorship: It has burned those confiscated books, including a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Lewis told the delegates what ALA officials there touting their mission of freedom to read didn't want to hear, even in the National Constitution Center: "I can't think of anything worse than putting people in jail for opening libraries." "Freedom for the Thought We Hate" will, of course, not be barred from our libraries. But, then again, the Founders did not intend the First Amendment to be exclusively American.



An "overwhelming majority" of Europeans believe immigration from Islamic countries is a threat to their traditional way of life, a survey revealed last night. The poll, carried out across 21 countries, found "widespread anti-immigration sentiment", but warned Europe's Muslim population will treble in the next 17 years. It reported "a severe deficit of trust is found between the Western and Muslim communities", with most people wanting less interaction with the Muslim world.

Last night an MP warned it showed that political leaders in Britain who preach the benefits of unlimited immigration were dangerously out of touch with the public.

The study, whose authors include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, was commissioned for leaders at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. It reports "a growing fear among Europeans of a perceived Islamic threat to their cultural identities, driven in part by immigration from predominantly Muslim nations". And it concludes: "An overwhelming majority of the surveyed populations in Europe believe greater interaction between Islam and the West is a threat."

Backbench Tory MP David Davies told the Sunday Express: "I am not surprised by these findings. People are fed up with multiculturalism and being told they have to give up their way of life. "Most people in Britain expect anyone who comes here to be willing to learn our language and fit in with us." Mr Davies, who serves on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, added: "People do get annoyed when they see millions spent on translating documents and legal aid being given to people fighting for the right to wear a head-to-toe covering at school. "A lot of people are very uncomfortable with the changes being caused by immigration and politicians have been too slow to wake up to that."

The report says people have little enthusiasm for greater understanding with Islam and attempts to improve relations have been "disappointing". And with the EU Muslim population expected to reach 15 per cent by 2025 it predicts: "Any deterioration on the international front will be felt most severely in Europe."

But leading Muslim academic Haleh Afshar, of York University, blamed media "hysteria" for the findings. She said: "There is an absence of trust towards Muslims, but to my mind that is very much driven by an uninformed media. "To blame immigration is much harder because the current influx of immigrants from eastern Europe are by-and-large not Muslim. The danger is that when people are fearful of people born and bred in this country it is likely that discrimination may follow."


The Battle Over MoCRI

By George Will

Come November, voters will decide more than half a million federal, state and local officeholders and ballot initiatives. Ninety-nine percent of these decisions will matter less than will the five civil rights initiatives that might be on the ballots in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri.

If the initiatives qualify for those states' ballots, all probably will pass. But the initiatives must surmount ferocious opposition from defenders of racial preferences, such as the politicians who administer and benefit from Missouri's racial spoils system. The crux of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative (MoCRI) would amend that state's Constitution to say: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."

Similar language has been approved by voters in California (in 1996), Washington state (1998) and Michigan (2006). California's initiative passed 55 percent to 45 percent even though opponents outspent supporters 13-1. Washington's initiative won 58-42 against 10-1 spending. Michigan's initiative won 58-42 although supporters were outspent 5-1. Those spending disparities understate the initiatives' disadvantages because in each state, opponents were assisted by the "diversity" industry that administers racial preferences in the public and private sectors.

Missouri law requires the secretary of state to draft a summary of an initiative, which appears on the ballot "in the form of a question using language neither intentionally argumentative nor likely to create prejudice either for or against the proposed measure." The following, not the MoCRI language quoted above, is what the state's Democratic secretary of state and Democratic attorney general proposed to put on the ballot:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?"

Well. The phrase "affirmative action" came into vogue in the years after the 1976 Democratic platform endorsed "compensatory opportunity." That obfuscating phrase appeared immediately after the platform said "we must insure that all citizens are treated equally before the law." Advocates of affirmative action have long denied that it involves racial preferences. Now Missouri is insisting that a ban on such preferences would eliminate all affirmative action.

Ward Connerly, the man organizing this year's five initiatives to promote colorblind governance, disagrees. A California businessman and former member, for 12 years, of the University of California Board of Regents, he stresses that many affirmative action measures, such as outreach to recruit students and employees from economically disadvantaged and isolated groups, do not require racial preferences.

MoCRI supporters went to court, arguing that the two Democrats' "explanation" of their amendment is couched in language that is "convoluted, ambiguous and muddled" and is "prejudicial, conclusory and untrue." They said that banning racial discrimination in the form of racial preferences does not ban programs to eliminate discrimination. They noted that MoCRI does not "allow" preferential treatment; rather, it would not obstruct receipt of federal funds tied to federal requirements. And the secretary of state's and the attorney general's "explanation" of MoCRI does not explain that MoCRI authorizes granting preferential treatment on the basis of age, disability or status as a veteran.

The judge largely sided with MoCRI's supporters, ordering this ballot language: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Ban state and local government affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment, or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, unless such programs are necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding or to comply with an existing court order?" The two Democrats, aware that similar language has won landslides in three other states, are appealing the decision.

The conventions that govern America's racial discourse derive from the odious "one drop" rule. According to it, anyone with any admixture of black ancestry -- one drop of black "blood" -- is black. So, Connerly is an African-American. One of his grandparents was of African descent, one was Irish, a third was Irish and American Indian, the fourth was French Canadian. Two of the grandchildren of Connerly and his Irish wife have a Vietnamese mother. Are these grandchildren African-Americans?

Will the superstitions surrounding race ever fade away? Not before governance is cleansed of the sort of race-based policies opposed by Connerly, who intimately knows the increasing absurdity of racial classifications, and the folly of government preferences based on them.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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