From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America


Christopher M. Finan received Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award for 2008. The award is presented for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom. Eligible books were published between 2006 and 2007. In 1919, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer launched a government roundup of thousands of Russian immigrants and deported 800 of them for their radical ideas, a flagrant violation of First Amendment rights. Decades later, a second Red Scare gripped the United States as Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a witch-hunt for Russian agents while sneering at "egg-sucking liberals" who defended "Communists and queers."

The nearly century-long battle between heresy hunters and civil libertarians makes the story of free speech in this country a colorful one, filled with dramatic episodes and larger-than-life personalities. Historian and free-speech advocate Christopher Finan introduces us to a cast of characters as varied as a young G. I. named Hugh Hefner and the ever-vigilant Emma Viets, chair of the Kansas City censorship board, who cheerfully cut scenes that weren't "clean and wholesome" from Hollywood films, shortening onscreen kisses and excluding any image of a woman "in the family way."
This history has enormous relevance in post-Patriot Act America. At a time when government is warning citizens and the press to watch what they say, the words of Murray I. Gurfein, a judge from another era, have special resonance: "The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."

From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act traces the fight for free speech from the turn of the nineteenth century through the War on Terror. Christopher Finan has given us a vital history of our most fundamental, and most vulnerable, constitutional right.


In July 2005, four Connecticut librarians defied the United States government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had issued a National Security Letter demanding information about a patron who had used one of the library';s computers. Fearing that a government search of library records would have a chilling effect on free speech, the librarians contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained an injunction blocking the order. This was not the first time the FBI had run into a stonewall in its effort to obtain information from a library. Only the year before, a library in Whatcom County, Washington, had gone to court to suppress an FBI subpoena that sought the names of patrons who had checked out a biography of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. In January 2003, the American Library Association, representing over sixty thousand librarians, demanded that Congress restore the safeguards for reader privacy that had been eliminated by the USA Patriot Act. The Justice Department was stunned. Attorney General John Ashcroft accused the librarians of ";hysteria."; Privately, FBI agents complained that they had to fight both the terrorists and the librarians. One agent criticized the Justice Department';s Offce of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) for knuckling under to the librarians by blocking wider use of the Patriot Act. ";While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR';s failure to let us use the tools given to us,"; the agent wrote. ";This should be an OIPR priority!!!";

Since when did librarians become champions of free speech? At . . .

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