Category Archives: First Amendment

NYU Press Announces Priests of Our Democracy

Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge, by Marjorie Heins, is slated for February 2013 publication.  In the book, Heins focuses on the fight for academic freedom, and on the court decisions that grew out of the 20th century’s anti-communist teacher investigations. It tells the stories of the teachers whose lives were upended by them, and discusses the repercussions we still feel today. It’s available from NYU Press (http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=6818)
 
Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions growing out of New York state investigations bookended the struggle. The 1952 Adler decision rejected the claim that academic freedom provided teachers and professors with protection against being investigated for their political beliefs.  Years of court cases at all levels eventually chipped away at loyalty investigations and the refusal to acknowledge the primacy of academic freedom. In the 1967 Keyishian case the Court reversed Adler and declared that freedom “a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.”    
 
Marjorie Heins is a civil liberties lawyer, writer, and teacher, and the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project. She wrote the profile of Irving Mauer, one of the teachers whose cases she covers in Priests of Our Democracy, at our related site Dreamers & Fighters. You can read it at  http://www.dreamersandfighters.com/mauer/inter_mauer.aspx .

Who’s Afraid of the First Amendment?

Well, to start with, all three court levels in New York, topped off by the Court of Appeals decision in my case calling on New York City’s Municipal Archives to fully open the Anti-Communist Series records in its Board of Education holdings. News coverage reflected the decisive indecisiveness inherent in the opinion: Court grants partial access… Historian can’t access…Court orders release of names…Etc.

The Court of Appeals decision opened all records except those with the names of informers and of teachers promised confidentiality. But the court’s outright refusal to deal with the First Amendment issue, and its FOIA holding, essentially falling for the manipulative “privacy” promise made to the teachers, backed away from the key issues at stake.

Now, admittedly, I’m a First Amendment junkie. And a FOIA junkie. But you don’t have to be either one to take offense at the different versions of the form the Archives has been requiring researchers to sign before they can gain full access to Series 591.

Apparently current just prior to oral argument in the Court of Appeals, the latest version required those requesting full access to the Anti-Communist Series to pretty much agree to prior restraint, and threatens legal action in case of a violation. You can imagine the impact that could have on students and academics toiling away in those piles of archival paper.

Towards the end of the oral argument in the case (Matter of Harbatkin vs. New York City Department of Records and Information Services), one of the judges asked the city’s lawyer if she would withhold the name of the informant who told General Washington about Benedict Arnold. She said yes.