“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercisethereof; of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceablyassemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Constitution of the United States,Bill of Rights, First Amendment, 1791.
One would think that given the rather explicit language of the First Amendment there wouldn’t be muchambiguity about what it intends. However, two centuries of various forms of legislation, litigation and eventualSupreme Court Decisions suggest that this is not the case. While Americans have retained a large degree ofexpressive freedom relative to other places in the world, there will always be repressive forces in our society –political, religious, gender or racial interest groups -- ready and willing to restrict these liberties in order to advancetheir own particular agenda, usually in the form of restricting or prohibiting criticism, discussion and debate onparticular issues.These restrictions are often quite subtle, as in the emergence of various forms of “political correctness,” whichhas both left and right-wing varieties, or quite explicit, as in the case of speech codes on college and universitycampuses. What is disarming about these forces is their frequent alliance with “humanitarian” concerns, such asmovements for equality and elimination of discrimination, which frames concern for freedom of expression asopposition to otherwise legitimate grievances. Nevertheless, no interest group should be allowed to impose theirown exceptions to the First Amendment on other Americans.Another threat to freedom of expression has re-emerged with renewed vigor following the 11 September 2001World Trade Center tragedy, and that is from an understandable but often overzealous desire to deal with the threatof terrorism. There’s little doubt that this horrible crime was totally indefensible and while there are reasonable andeven necessary safety measures that might be considered, the “War on Terrorism” is bringing with it the draconianlaws threatening basic freedoms Americans have taken for granted since the founding of the Republic. In additionto a dramatically expanded definition of “terrorism” to take in more and more behaviors and events, new threats tofreedom of association, assembly and speech are emerging from the rush of legislation on all levels of government.Moreover, opposition to these measures is sometimes taken to imply a lack of patriotism or even disloyalty,although it can easily be argued that precisely the opposite is the case. This is a truly frightening development,and especially so given the rationalizations of “wartime” and national security.This collection contains quotations from a wide variety of political perspectives, from liberal and socialist tolibertarian and conservative. What they all have in common is some degree of relevance to human freedom andindividual rights, with an emphasis on freedom of expression. What I have tended to avoid is quotations pertainingspecifically to class, ethnicity, religion or gender and instead I have favored quotations pertaining to everyone,inasmuch as I believe civil liberties and individual rights should apply to all human beings.These quotations come from a wide variety of sources, primarily previous collections I have authored orcoauthored, most particularly,
Be Reasonable: Selected Quotations for Inquiring Minds
, by Laird Wilcox and JohnGeorge (Prometheus: 1994), and
Selected Quotations for the Ideological Skeptic
, by Laird Wilcox (EditorialResearch Service, 1992). Other sources include my own notes, quotations sent to me by friends, internet searchingand the reading of a very large number of books.It’s important to bear in mind that quotations are, almost by definition, statements removed from their originalcontext. It isn’t difficult to find contradictory statements in the writings of many individuals, and some writers maybe surprisingly ambivalent about an issue, at times taking a stand diametrically opposed to an earlier statement.Many of our nation’s founders, for example, had both a liberal and tolerant side, and a conservative andauthoritarian side -- a trait that attests to their essentially fallible human nature and persists in human beings to thepresent day. It is, of course, not possible to know exactly what someone was thinking or referring to when theymade a statement that is subsequently quoted, so we tend to interpret the quotation in terms of current meaningsand current issues. In this case what they probably had in mind was religious and political freedom in the form ofthe written and spoken word. To imagine that John Stuart Mill or Thomas Jefferson would feel comfortabledefending the rights of pornographic film producers is almost certainly quite a stretch. On the other hand, mostlate 20
century writers quoted here have an awareness of censorship pertaining to that subject and their