Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2000 / 7 Kislev, 5761

Nat Hentoff

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

This year, give the gift of the Constitution -- SINCE THIS COLUMN is often about the state of health of constitutional rights and liberties, readers have occasionally asked for books that take the words of that document off the paper and into people's lives. So, in time for the holiday season, here are some suggestions. (And doing so helps support JWR.)

In "Free Speech: The People's Darling Privilege" , Michael Kent Curtis -- a professor at Wake Forest School of Law in North Carolina -- tells the stories of average Americans, white and black, who fought for free speech against heavy odds. The book ranges from the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, to the beginning of the application of those rights to the states in 1868. He then brings the story up to date.

Curtis, as always, is free of legalese; with clarity and deep knowledge, he shows how our freedoms are nourished more insistently by the people than by the courts.

A valuable accompanying book, also published this year, shows how we the people have moved our highest tribunal. "Freedom of Expression in the Supreme Court: The Defining Cases," edited by Terry Eastland (Rowman and Littlefield), is a blessedly nontechnical array of key decisions that exemplify the warning of Justice Anthony Kennedy: "The Constitution needs renewal and understanding each generation, or else it's not going to last."

Included are the backgrounds of the cases and the essence of the Court's opinions -- including the dissents, some of which have indeed eventually renewed our understanding of the First Amendment, from which all our other liberties flow. This book, and Michael Kent Curtis's, should be in the classrooms -- not just the libraries -- of our schools.

So too should "The Freedom Not to Speak," by professor Haig Bosmajian of the University of Washington (New York University Press). The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that no American can be "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

As Bosmajian shows -- in vivid stories, from the Inquisition in Europe, to the Salem witch trials, to loyalty oaths in this nation -- the battles by individuals against state-compelled speech have been among the hardest to win in human history. As Thomas Jefferson said, "the rights of conscience" can "never be submitted" to the state.

Justice William Brennan once told me that Americans would more fully understand Supreme Court decisions if the press were to follow particularly important cases from their beginnings so that we could get to know the actual people involved -- and what grievances led them on the long route to the Supreme Court. A vital book that does just that in a series of stories free of technical language is "The Courage of Their Convictions," by Peter Irons (Penguin), professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. As Bill Moyers has said of these struggles for justice:

"Reading these stories, you have that sense of the actual person behind the name, one more reminder that the Bill of Rights indeed is for the people."

I have recommended this book to many students -- from the fifth and sixth grade through graduate school. It has the surprises, triumphs and setbacks of a riveting novel. In it, you hear the voices of the very people whose beliefs impelled them to take the Constitution as a shield. Accordingly, the ultimate Supreme Court rulings make you realize the impact of those decisions on not only those who went to the Court, but on the rest of us as well.

Also written with a compelling mastery of storytelling -- far from the density of prose in law journals -- is "The Story of American Freedom" , which presents a panorama of the conflicts, resolutions and ceaseless challenges to maintaining and regenerating the meaning of freedom to Americans.

The author, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner, notes that "Freedom is so central to our political language that it is impossible to understand political history without knowledge of the multifaceted debates over its meaning. ... The story of freedom is not a mythic saga with a predetermined beginning and conclusion, but an open-ended history of accomplishments and failure."

As these books demonstrate, learning history can be an exhilarating experience -- especially the history of why we are Americans.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/27/00: Is capital punishment a deterrent?
11/20/00: Punishing the Boy Scouts
11/06/00: Joe Lieberman's excommunication
10/30/00: CNN discards journalistic responsibility
10/23/00: The basic flaw in the debates
10/16/00: Nader's American history lesson; or: Silencing Jesse Jackson
10/06/00: Hate-crime laws: The real message
10/03/00: Why Clinton was not convicted
09/25/00: Protecting babies born alive
09/25/00: A selective zeal for justice
09/06/00: The power of nonviolence
08/28/00: Should Dr. Laura be silenced?
08/22/00: Trashing the Bill of Rights in Philly
08/14/00: The repressive hand of China
08/07/00: A racial incident on a train
07/31/00: Attention Jesse Jackson: Sudanese children are still branded and enslaved
07/24/00: Open up the presidential debates!
07/17/00: A stealth attack on privacy
07/03/00: Plea to the Congressional Black Caucus
06/26/00: Burning 'bad' ideas at college
06/19/00: Affirmative action beyond race
06/12/00: Students discover the Constitution
06/06/00: The Liar's legacy and America's delusions
05/30/00: Reining in the majority's will
05/23/00: Press swoons for a bunco artist
05/15/00: The China that tourists don't see
05/08/00: The coverage of Reno's lawless raid
05/01/00: In Clinton and Castro's best interests
04/24/00: Elian's human rights
04/17/00: Crime's down, but arrests keep rising
04/10/00: Teacher brings Constitution to life
04/03/00: The Americans who keep disappearing
03/27/00: The censoring of feminist history
03/20/00: Should there be a chaplain in Congress?
03/13/00: Big labor, big China, spinning Gore
03/03/00: The ACLU violates its principles --- yet again!
02/28/00: Still two nations?
02/11/00: You bet we should disbar Bubba
01/31/00: Where was Jesse?
01/24/00: Is suing church for sexual harassment an entanglement?
01/18/00: Will Miranda make it?
01/11/00: ACLU: Guilty until presumed innocent?
01/03/00: Liberty lion should be Man of Century
12/28/99: Drug tests that tear families apart
12/20/99: Get ready for decisive ruling on school vouchers for religious schools
12/13/99: Guess who is taking the lead in anti-slavery movement? Hint: It ain't Rev. Jesse
12/06/99: When we refuse to buy the 'otherly-challenged' excuse
11/29/99: Expelling 'Huck Finn'
11/22/99: Pleading the First
11/16/99: Goal of diversity needs rethinking?
11/08/99: Prosecution in darkness
11/02/99: The accuracy that's owed to readers
10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
10/18/99: The blue wall of silence
10/11/99: Bill Bradley's speech tax
10/04/99: 'Technicalities' that keep us free
09/27/99: Our 'Americanism'-ignorant generation
09/20/99: ACLU better clean up its act
09/13/99: A professor of infanticide at Princeton
09/07/99: The Big Apple's Rotten Policing
08/23/99: Lawyerly ethics
08/16/99: To Get a Supreme Court Seat
08/02/99: What are the poor people doing tonight?
07/26/99: Lady Hillary and the press

© 2000, NEA