Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge

Overview


In the early 1950s, New York City’s teachers and professors became the targets of massive investigations into their political beliefs and associations. Those who refused to cooperate in the questioning were fired. Some had undoubtedly been communists, and the Communist Party-USA certainly made its share of mistakes, but there was never evidence that the accused teachers had abused their trust. Some were among the most brilliant, popular, and dedicated educators in the city. Priests of Our Democracy tells of the ...
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Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge

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Overview


In the early 1950s, New York City’s teachers and professors became the targets of massive investigations into their political beliefs and associations. Those who refused to cooperate in the questioning were fired. Some had undoubtedly been communists, and the Communist Party-USA certainly made its share of mistakes, but there was never evidence that the accused teachers had abused their trust. Some were among the most brilliant, popular, and dedicated educators in the city. Priests of Our Democracy tells of the teachers and professors who resisted the witch hunt, those who collaborated, and those whose battles led to landmark Supreme Court decisions. It traces the political fortunes of academic freedom beginning in the late 19th century, both on campus and in the courts. Combining political and legal history with wrenching personal stories, the book details how the anti-communist excesses of the 1950s inspired the Supreme Court to recognize the vital role of teachers and professors in American democracy. The crushing of dissent in the 1950s impoverished political discourse in ways that are still being felt, and First Amendment academic freedom, a product of that period, is in peril today. In compelling terms, this book shows why the issue should matter to every American.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Heins, a civil liberties lawyer and founder of the Free Expression Policy Project, tracks the collision of politics, academic freedom, free speech, and the Constitution in this dense, well-researched study. She opens with a formative University of Wisconsin Board of Regents statement issued in 1894 that “sang the praises of academic freedom as a necessary component” of the university and advocated for the “fearless” pursuit of truth in academia, but she quickly focuses in on the “American Red Scare” that began in the 1920s and extended on into the ’50s. In the course of her discussion, she examines governmental efforts to suppress the perceived threat of communism, the individuals who spearheaded those efforts, and the consequences of the destructive purges. Alongside her detailed and well-documented descriptions of the consequences of the chilling crackdowns on the academic world, Heins (Not In Front of the Children) demonstrates her legal acumen in insightful elucidations of the constitutional underpinnings and Supreme Court decisions that have come to define the rights of educators. She also addresses how these standards have fared after 9/11 and under the current Chief Justice, John Roberts—not well, she contends. This compelling study demonstrates that precedent does not guarantee indefinite protection, and every generation must fight for its freedoms. Photos. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

“A fascinating read. Heins creatively blends social and legal history to show how the right to academic freedom was forged out of the struggles and passions of America’s worst days of political repression, and why academic freedom is more important than ever today.”-Nadine Strossen,former president, American Civil Liberties Union; professor, New York Law School

"In this insightful and illuminating history of academic freedom and the Constitution, Marjorie Heins brings to life the characters, controversies, and cases that have framed the evolution of this critical and contentious realm of American liberty."-Geoffrey R. Stone,Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

"Combining the legal insights of a constitutional scholar with the archival diligence of an historian, Marjorie Heins has written the definitive study of the Supreme Court’s most important academic freedom decision. It’s an engrossing account of the assault on educators during the McCarthy era that should be required reading for anyone who values our increasingly endangered First Amendment rights."-Ellen Schrecker,Professor of History, Yeshiva University

"Marjorie Heins has given a human face to leading American controversies and cases about academic freedom, creatively integrating personal interviews and archival sources into her account of the developing law."-David Rabban,University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas School of Law

"With clarity and insight Marjorie Heins brings to life a part of American history often overlooked despite its importance to our democracy today. The tension between individual freedom and national security is as taut as it ever has been. We have much to learn from our earlier mistakes in yielding too readily to claims of the latter. This compelling book, which brilliantly illuminates earlier Supreme Court decisions, and the people and events behind them, is a wonderful place to begin."-Margaret H. Marshall,former Chief Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Library Journal
Attorney Heins (Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth) traces the history of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Keyishian v. Board of Regents, which held that states could not prohibit teachers from belonging to groups considered subversive (in this case, the Communist Party). The book benefits from the author's interviews with the teachers involved in the loyalty investigations in 1950s New York, her access to FBI files, and her use of contemporary political cartoons. Part 1 recalls how in the 1950s New York-area colleges purged their ranks of instructors considered radical. Part 2 describes the evolution of the Court's views regarding guilt by association (particularly as a way to disqualify teachers). Part 3 discusses how the Court connected academic freedom with the First Amendment to arrive at a decision that decreed teachers could not be required to take loyalty oaths or be fired for joining condemned groups. The book concludes by drawing lines between modern-day antiterrorism and 1950s anticommunism. VERDICT Well written, thorough, and full of personal details about the subjects, this is a telling account of teachers' struggle for academic freedom in America.—Harry Charles, St. Louis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814790519
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/4/2013
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 988,308
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Marjorie Heins is a civil liberties lawyer, writer, and teacher, and the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project. Her previous book, Not in Front of the Children, won the American Library Association’s 2002 Eli Oboler Award for best published work in the field of intellectual freedom. Other books include Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars; Cutting the Mustard: Affirmative Action and the Nature of Excellence; and Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I Prelude to the Deluge

1 "Sifting and Winnowing" 17

2 Radicalism and Reaction in the 1930s 31

3 Rapp-Coudert 51

Part II Teachers and Free Speech

4 The Board of Education and the Feinberg Law 69

5 Insubordination and "Conduct Unbecoming" 87

6 The Vinson Court 103

Part III The Purge Comes to Higher Education

7 The McCarran Committee and the City Colleges 127

8 "The Laughing-Stock of Europe" 144

9 The Moral Dilemma: Naming Names 162

Part IV The Supreme Court and Academic Freedom

10 Red Monday and Beyond 177

11 The Road to Keyishian 192

12 "A Pall of Orthodoxy over the Classroom" 209

Part V Politics, Repression, and the Future of Academic Freedom

13 "A Generation Stopped in Its Tracks" 225

14 Academic Freedom after Keyishian 239

15 September 11 and Beyond 252

Conclusion 269

Acknowledgments 285

Notes 287

Bibliography 327

Index 343

About the Author 363

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