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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


First Amendment Rights in a Time of Crisis

The Provost Global Issues Series continued last Wednesday with Anthony Lewis’#146;slecture, ‘America Struggles with Freedom.’ Lewis, a Harvard Law graduateand Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, started the speech by expressing hispleasure to be at Stony Brook.

The main basis of the lecture was to discuss the infringements upon Americanrights that occur during times of crisis, and how this phenomenon applies tothe crisis that is occurring today. Indeed, Lewis stated that his lecture wouldbe better entitled ‘Fear and Its Consequences’.

‘We are at war with a shadowy enemy, a war with no visible end,’Lewis said. He explained that this uncertainty about the opposition createsa sense of fear. That fear can damage societies as well as individuals, oftencausing a feeling of intolerance with it.

During times of war and crisis, Lewis said, Americans believe that they canset aside such ‘niceties’ as freedom of speech in order combat theevility of terrorism.

‘They are not just niceties,’ Lewis asserted. The right to say whatwe believe, to disagree with the official view, is what we Americans are allabout.’ In 1791, Congress passed the First Amendment, which states that’Congress shall make no law’#133;abridging the freedom of speech, or ofthe press.’

Lewis noted that this edict has been repeatedly violated by the very institutionthat formulated it, and gave the audience a refresher course on the instancesin which this violation has occurred.

The Sedition Act of 1798 made it a crime to publish false attacks on the Presidentor Congress; its passage resulted from the political fears that arose in thewake of the French Revolution.

Curtailing of First Amendment rights, Lewis said, were also rampant duringthe Civil War. President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus to avoid court testsof his wartime actions. After the war, the Southern States were put under militarygovernments, and attempts to reject the constitutionality of these decisionswere thwarted by Supreme Court rulings. According to Lewis, ‘Under theimpact of the war the country turned jingoistic.’

During World War I, he explained, German words were disparaged in the UnitedStates. Sauerkraut was renamed Liberty Cabbage. The Espionage Act, which punishedspying and all kinds of speech that might be considered a hindrance of governmentpolicy.

The influence of fear continued in World War II with Japanese internment camps,and in the Cold War with the fear of Communism and the ‘Red Scare.’

Today the effects of fear in the wake of Sept. 11 are apparent, Lewis said,as there have been great violations of civil liberties.

More than 1,000 aliens in this country, according to Lewis, have been secretlydetained for extended periods.

‘We have to understand that American freedom is not just a happy conditionfor Americans to enjoy. It is a powerful asset for this country in its relationswith the world.’

Lewis continued his argument with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, ‘Theythat can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserveneither liberty nor safety.’

The questions section of the lecture included such topics as free speech andcampaign finance. Lewis also discussed the United States’#146;s Mideast policy,which described as an ‘absolute disaster’ and ‘comatose.’

Stony Brook senior Clayton Bailey gave found Lewis’#146;s speech engaging.’It really made me rethink everything that’#146;s going on today with thewhole September 11 thing.’

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