More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free expression clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Lewis’s telling, the story of how the right of free expression evolved along with our nation makes a compelling case for the adaptability of our constitution. Although Americans have gleefully and sometimes outrageously exercised their right to free speech since before the nation’s founding, the Supreme Court did not begin to recognize this right until 1919. Freedom of speech and the press as we know it today is surprisingly recent. Anthony Lewis tells us how these rights were created, revealing a story of hard choices, heroic (and some less heroic) judges, and fascinating and eccentric defendants who forced the legal system to come face-to-face with one of America’s great founding ideas.
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