Forging New Freedoms: Nativism, Education, and the Constitution, 1917-1927

Synopsis

In several landmark decisions during the mid-1920s, the U. S. Supreme Court significantly expanded the scope of the Constitution's protection of individual freedom by striking down state laws designed to repress or even destroy private and parochial schools. Forging New Freedoms explains the origins of na-tivistic hostility toward German and Japanese Americans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and other groups whose schools became the object of assaults during and shortly after World War I. The book explores the campaigns to restrict foreign language instruction and to require compulsory public education. It also examines the background of Meyer v. Nebraska and Farrington v. Tokushige, in which the Court invalidated laws that restricted the teaching of foreign languages, and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, which nullified an Oregon law that required all children to attend public elementary schools. Drawing upon diverse sources, including popular periodicals, court briefs, and unpublished manuscripts, William G. Ross explains how the Court's decisions commenced the Court's modern role as a guardian of civil liberties. He also traces the constitutional legacy of those decisions, which have provided the foundation for the controversial right of privacy.

Ross's interdisciplinary exploration of the complex interaction among ethnic and religious institutions, nativist groups, public opinion, the legislative process, and judicial decision-making provides fresh insights into both the fragility and the resilience of civil liberties in the United States. While the campaigns to curtail nonpublic education offer a potent reminder of the ever-present dangers of majoritarian tyranny, the refusal of voters and legislators to exact more extreme measures was a tribute to the tolerance of American society. The Court's decisions provided notable examples of how the judiciary can pro-tect embattled minorities who are willing to fight to protect their rights.