A Must Read Book: Freedom of Speech in War Times

The Muslim Times’ Editor’s comment: To tackle blasphemy laws in the so called Muslim Countries, one needs to first grasp the history of these laws and freedom of speech, in the Western world.

It is a 45 page booklet by Zechariah Chafee, Jr. (December 7, 1885 – February 8, 1957), who was an American Professor of Law, judicial philosopher and civil rights advocate. Defending freedom of speech, he was described by Senator Joseph McCarthy as “dangerous” to the United States.[1] Legal scholar Richard Primus called Chafee “possibly the most important First Amendment scholar of the first half of the twentieth century.”[2]

Chafee’s first significant work (Freedom of Speech)[5] established modern First Amendment theory. Inspired by the United States’ suppression of radical speech and ideas during the First World War, Chafee edited and updated a collection of several of his journal articles.[6] In these individual articles-cum-chapters, he assessed significant World War I cases, including those of Emma Goldman.

He revised and reissued this work in 1941 as Free Speech in the United States, which became a leading treatise on First Amendment law.

Chafee wrote several works about civil liberties, including:

  • Free Speech (1920)
  • Free Speech in the United States, 1941 (expanded edition of Freedom of Speech)
  • Government and Mass Communications, 1947
  • The Blessings of Liberty, 1956
His scholarship on civil liberties was a major influence on Oliver Wendell Holmes‘ and Louis Brandeis‘ post-World War I jurisprudence, which first established the First Amendment as a significant source of civil liberties. Chafee met with Justice Holmes after the Schenck case 249 U.S. 47 (1919), which upheld a conviction of an activist who encouraged draft resistance, and convinced him that free speech needed greater consideration. Shortly thereafter, Holmes joined Brandeis in a dissent in another World War I dissent case;[7] this dissent is recognized as the foundation of modern First Amendment jurisprudence.

Some of Chafee’s more important work occurred through his membership on the American Bar Association‘s Bill of Rights Committee to 1938 to 1947. In this capacity he submitted briefs amicus curiae several Supreme Court of the United States cases. In (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,319 U.S. 624 (1943) Chafee submitted a amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court hoping to persuade the Court to reverse an earlier decision[8] upholding a state law requiring a salute to the flag by children of Jehovah’s Witnesses based in the principles offreedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Chafee was, from 1943 from 1947, vice-chairman of the Commission on the Freedom of the Press (Hutchins Commission). The Commission was established in 1943 by Henry Luce to determine if freedom of the press was in danger in the United States and was chaired by Robert Maynard Hutchins.

Chafee became an advocate for international human rights through his work as a representative on the United Nations Subcommission on Freedom of Information and the Press in 1947 through 1951. He was a United States delegate to the 1948 United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information and the Press.

Read the book online.

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