An easy-reading history of the First Amendment |

An easy-reading history of the First Amendment

Paul ConradAspen Times Weekly
Title: Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A biography of the First AmendmentAuthor: Anthony LewisPublisher: Basic BooksPrice: $25

You need not be a history or law buff to enjoy Freedom for the Thought That We Hate. It has a simplicity that keeps you reading, enough mystery to keep you intrigued, and a quick pace to keep you hooked. This is a good book for anyone who wants to know where our rights come from, and how theyve been tested.Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Lewis was a New York Times columnist from 1961 to 2001 and reported on the U.S. Supreme Court. The title of the book comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes dissenting opinion, written in 1929 in the case United States v. Schwimmer. The opinion stated, 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 just the thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate. The case stems from Hungarian immigrant Rosika Schwimmer, an elderly pacifist who refused to swear to take up arms to defend the United States as a requirement for citizenship. Her request was denied.Lewis writes an eloquent history of the free-speech and free-press clauses of the First Amendment. He simply begins by explaining how these clauses were largely ignored by courts until the early part of the 20th century.Freedom for the Thought That We Hate starts with a history of how the freedoms of speech and press began not as rights wanted by the American colonists, but as a reaction to political and legal repression, where it was extremely dangerous to utter a thought that differed from official truth.Throughout the book, Lewis uses case law and history to make a simple statement that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not just documents, but living, breathing cornerstones of American society. He engages the reader with questions, then answers the questions with historical facts and cases. He challenges the reader to take their liberties seriously, to understand them and, if required, to defend them.The book is an easy and informative read. A lay person can pick up this legal history and, by the end, have a basic understanding of the evolution and principles of the free speech and press clauses of the First Amendment.

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