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

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

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

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 Drawing upon diverse sources, including popular periodicals, court briefs, and unpublished manuscripts, William G. Ross explains how the Court's decisions commenced the Court's modern role as a guardian of civil liberties.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.

Excerpt

The spire of the Zion Lutheran Church rises ninety-eight feet above the prairie amid wheat fields four miles northeast of Hampton, Nebraska. The spire and the resolute white frame edifice it crowns are incongruous sights in an area where vast expanses of farmland are broken by no other landmarks than an occasional barn, toolshed, or farmhouse. Far from being an alien intruder, however, the church is no less endemic to the prairie than are the crops, for the seeds of both were brought to Nebraska by German immigrants and planted in a soil in which they flourished. For more than a century, the Zion Church has served as the spiritual, cultural, and social center of a thriving German-American community. The three hundred souls who worship at Zion today are linked by modern transportation and communication to a wider world, but the Germans who originally settled in this region of southeastern Nebraska had little beyond the church to connect them to civilization. For them, the church provided both a vital reminder of their European heritage and a portal to their future as Americans. Zion was at once the lost homeland over which they wept and the promised land to which they had come. Like the turreted synagogues of Manhattan's pushcart district, the onion-domed Orthodox sanctuaries of the Pennsylvania coal fields, and the Roman Catholic churches that towered above the slaughterhouses of Chicago--like immigrant houses of worship everywhere--Zion provided a respite from the harsh exigencies of daily toil and a familiar setting in which immigrants could escape from the strangeness of a new land. From the large pipe organ came exquisite German hymns, the only instrumental music that most immigrants were likely to hear apart from an occasional mouth harp and the fiddle at a barn dance. The church's . . .

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