“Those who would sacrifice a little freedom for a little security deserve neither.”–Benjamin Franklin
I first wrote this for WorldNetDaily over a dozen years ago. It is fascinating how little has changed.
Most Americans cherish the First Amendment to the Constitution with a near religious intensity. Freedom of Speech is accepted as pretty axiomatic. Actually, it seems to be the one constitutional guarantee that left and right, conservative and liberal actually agree on — kinda.
If truth be known and acknowledged, regardless of political philosophy, most Americans cling to and cherish their individual God-given inalienable rights as delineated in the First Amendment. However, the blessing and the curse of the First Amendment is that in order for us to enjoy the freedoms to speak, write, and worship as we choose, we must tolerate views, opinions, and religion we find offensive. Easier said than done. Voltaire would be an anomaly today and probably would be killed or jailed faster than Buddha.
Despite very specific prohibitive language which states “Congress shall make no law,” Congress has in fact passed laws allegedly “in the public interest” which were specifically designed and intended to restrict freedom of speech and press.
Some of the more famous include the Alien And Sedition Acts of 1790, the Smith Act of 1940 and the McCarran Act of 1950 — on top of which a gaggle of federal agencies and/or prosecutors have sparked actions that have resulted in various limitations on freedom of speech and press.
I recalled an interesting survey I found several years ago which listed countries that had free presses. The United States of America was tied for 8th place. I couldn’t find it in my rat’s nest of files so I did a search and found this global survey that “expands a process conducted since 1979 by Freedom House. … This survey examines 186 countries (149 with populations greater than 1 million).”
The latest Freedom House survey has the United States ranked No. 10 in the world. America, “home of the free, land of the brave,” with the First Amendment carved in stone falls behind:
- New Zealand
Knowledge is power, and the power elite can and will restrict information however and whenever they can to further their specific agenda. We have several recent examples to point to for confirmation of this fact: Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City and TWA Flight 800. You might also consider the “official” government stories of James Forrestal’s “suicide,” JFK, Vince Foster, Ron Brown and the recently WND reported string of related CIA deaths in the ’50s.
Way back in 1798 Congress passed four laws which came to be known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. You see, politics being politics, the then-dominant Federalist Party hoped by this legislation to hamstring political enemies, specifically the Democratic Republicans.
There had been a quasi-war with France following the XYZ Affair that convinced a whole bunch of Federalists that “criticism” was disloyal (more than a little weird and hypocritical so soon after the Revolution), and so legislation was authored, sponsored and pushed through Congress. Despite the reservations of President John Adams, it happened.
Here’s what they did:
- The Naturalization Act increased residency requirements for aliens seeking citizenship from 5 to 14 years.
- The Alien Act, limited to two years duration, gave the president power to deport any foreigner he regarded as dangerous “to the peace and safety of the United States.”
- The Alien Enemies Act gave the President broad powers to deal with enemy aliens during time of war.
- The Sedition Act (another two-year deal) made it a crime to publish anything false or scandalous against the government. Thank goodness that one was sunsetted in the founding era or Clinton would have loved that puppy.
This last act violated the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, although it is notable in that it raised the concept of seditious libel to accept truth as a defense and to allow juries to rule on questions of law as well as fact. Republicans won in 1800 and repealed (in 1802) the Naturalization Act. The others were quietly allowed to expire. But it happened; the Alien Sedition Acts were once law in America.
And it happened again. The Smith Act of 1940 was a result of concerns over Germany’s European aggression during WWII, and more specifically over alleged Communist sparked strikes intended to cripple defense production.
The Smith Act called for and required the fingerprinting and registering of all aliens residing in the United States and made it a crime to advocate or teach the violent overthrow of the U.S. government or to belong to a group advocating or teaching it. Now some folks said “Whoa! Wait a minute. What about the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech?”
Well the Supreme Court of 1951 in Dennis v. United States upheld the act’s constitutionality (because it could) and told dissenters to shut up and sit down. However, the supremes have always been mercurial and subject to change. In 1957, the court amended its position in Yates v. United States and ruled that teaching communism or other revolutionary theories did not in itself constitute grounds for conviction — only proof positive that direct action had been urged to topple the government could yield a conviction.
The above is especially significant when viewed in contemporary context in which the Clintonistas waged jihad against militias and those who oppose government abuses. Critics of the previous administration were often victims of abuse of government power, and a long list of Clinton critics are still licking their wounds and paying legal bills.
The commie-under-the-bed Red Scare of Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs and McCarthyism gave birth to the Internal Security Act of 1950. This was supposedly an effort by Congress to eliminate suspected Communist subversion within our borders. History now shows that the threats were very real, very significant and (especially in the State Department) ubiquitous. This puppy (which grew into a Great Dane/Mastiff crossbreed) provided that Communist front and action organizations must register with the U.S. attorney general. It denied members employment within the federal government or its defense industries and the right to the use of U.S. passports.
Other elements extended the statute of limitations for espionage, arranged for emergency detention of those likely to commit espionage or sabotage and created (here we go folks) a “Subversive Activities Control Board” for the purpose of determining whether organizations and individuals were Red. The law passed Congress despite a presidential veto from Harry Truman and hung around (although ignored) until it was eventually whittled away piece by piece during the early ’70s.
All said, it’s clear we have a history in the United States of the Congress tinkering with what we assume to be carved in stone: The First Amendment.
Last year the Senate Intelligence Committee tried (and failed) to create a bill that would establish this country’s first-ever official secrets act. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., wants to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of any type of classified information by federal employees.
In the wake of eight years of abuse of federal power as an art form, and a nation yearning for the disinfectant cleansing of sunlight, our government seems intent on restricting further the potential of people power through knowledge.
If Shelby gets the wink-wink, nod-nod from President Bush it could herald the end of future Gary Aldriches, I.C. Smiths, Notra Trulocks, Lt. Cdr. Jack Dalys and no doubt a goodly portion of Bill Gertz’s rolodex.
Can Orwell’s “Thought Police” be far behind?