March 24, 2008

Freedom for the Thought We Hate

Not only a great title, a great history of the freedom of speech and how radically it has changed over the years. I can't recommend this one highly enough. The title comes from the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in a dissent on a case about a pacifist who had refused to swear to take up arms to defend the United States when she immigrated. He pointed out that, "as she is a woman over fifty years of age, and would not be allowed to bear arms if she wanted to" the refusal was irrelevant. But he didn't stop there. He continues on with some of the most poetic writing about a court case ever written:
Some of her answers might excite popular prejudice, but if the is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principal of free thought--not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate. I think that we should adhere to that principle with regard to admission into, as well as to life within this country. And recurring to the opinion that bars this applicant's way, I would suggest that the Quakers have done their share to make the country what it is, that many citizens agree with the applicant's belief and that I had not supposed hitherto that we regretted our inability to expel them because they believe more than some of us in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.