Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press

By: Professor Druks

The cherished rights and privileges of Freedom of Speech and Press were hard won. In America these rights were not established as fundamental and inalienable rights until after the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were adopted. The First Amendment reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ( Ratified December 1791)

In 1798 the Congress and the administration of John Adams enacted and enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts in order to control criticism of the government. Those measures almost destroyed freedom of speech and press as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. During the Civil War Lincoln imposed Martial Law and the basic freedoms of the First Amendment were in jeopardy. Woodrow Wilson and his Congress would pass the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 that effectively outlawed criticism of U.S. government leaders and war policies. There some 1,500 prosecutions and some 1,000 convictions under those laws. It was against the law to say that the draft was unconstitutional. Eugene V. Debs, Socialist candidate for the Presidency in 1912 was arrested for advocating that men refuse to serve in the military. There have been various individual and non-governmental efforts to curb the First Amendment rights.

Founding fathers like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson did not favor either the abandonment or the abuse of free speech. As Jefferson put it, everyone was to be held accountable under criminal law for the abuse of that freedom of speech and press. It was to be a free country, but not a state of bedlam.

In the 20th Century there have been individuals who abused the privilege and rights to free speech and a free press. Henry Ford the automobile mechanic turned automobile manufacturer attacked the Jewish people from 1921 to 1927 in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. His articles charged that the Jews were responsible for the Russian Revolution, for the assassination of Lincoln for all that went wrong with the human race. He hated jazz and he blamed such Jews as Irving Berlin for having invented it. He hated movies and he charged that the Jews made movies "reeking of filth and slimy with sex." There was no limit to his hatred for Jews. He became an idol of the German Nazi Party. His articles were transformed into books and received widespread circulation throughout the world. Hitler had a picture of Ford in his office.

Some individuals and some newspapers publicly rejected Ford's racism. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise observed that the works of Ford were either those of "a criminal or a madman." Louis Marshall asked Ford to desist from his antisemitic publications, but the Americana Jewish Committee preferred not to launch a campaign against Ford. They felt it would only provide him with a further platform with which to attack the Jews. As Jacob Schiff put it, " a public defense at the present time might be undesirable and only further publicity to an unpleasant situation."

Ford's attacks continued until 1927 when Aaron Sapiro, A Jewish businessman from the Middle West, sued him for libel. Ford preferred not to appear in court. His staff contacted Louis Marshall and it was agreed that Ford was to issue an apology. In that statement Ford claimed that he did not know what had been written in those articles and he promised to make amends for the harm he had "unintentionally committed." The Hiterlites used Ford's writings as they did the writings of German racists and other non-Germans in order to promote their programs. Hitler's attacks culminated in such destruction camps as Treblinka, Auschwitz, Chelmno and Buchenwald. The Germans and their allies killed over six million Jews in such camps.

Neither Ford's nor Hitler's abuses of freedom of the press and freedom of speech were challenged by the people or governments of their respective democratic societies.

The damage that Ford had done was irreparable. He helped lay the foundation for the destruction of entire European civilizations: the Jewish European civilizations as well as the Gentile European civilizations. That which was destroyed will never be restored. The generation of leaders and the masses that chose silence rather than to answer Ford failed to protect the Name and Faith of the Jewish people. They failed in their responsibility to defend the rights and privileges of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. They allowed Ford and his cohorts free reign to abuse the privileges and rights declared in the American constitutional tradition.

In our time we must be vigilant to secure and protect our inalienable rights and we must make sure that contemporary media - internet, t.v. radio, books, magazines and newspapers- not be used to abuse those rights. We must protect ourselves from those who may exercise the power of communication to destroy our basic freedoms. We must protect our rights from such individuals whether they be professors behind lecterns, writers behind pens, preachers behind their pulpits or broadcasters in front of their microphones.

In recent days an individual who calls himself Khalid Muhammad has addressed the public with anti-Semitic tirades. He has called the Jews "bloodsuckers," he claimed the Holocaust never took place and that the Black people lost 600 million people thanks to the white man. He must be answered and he must be challenged. The American community cannot afford to dismiss him as if he were a madman. Recent history has taught us that the masses listen to madmen and they do mad things.

It is everybody.

Return to News ArchivesBack to Top