Freedom Is a Social Necessity
Hays, Arthur Garfield
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. The only reliable measure of how firmly a man holds his beliefs is how consistently and honestly he applies them. Attorney Arthur Garfield Hays believes in freedom and in democracy. A list of his cases over the past half century reads like a record of the great landmarks in the continuing struggle for liberty and justice. This is the driving force of his philosophy.
This I believe: that progress comes from struggle, conflict, and competition of ideas; that freedom is an end in itself—almost as important to the individual as the food he eats or the air he breathes. I believe that the best expression of freedom is in our Bills of Rights, and that not only our welfare but our safety as a nation depends upon our observance of the principles expressed in the Bills of Rights.
Freedom is a social luxury, say some. History proves that freedom is a social necessity. All this is regarded as platitudinous by most Americans. Yet, there are differences in interpretation. Take freedom of speech, for example. Most people believe not in freedom of speech; they believe in “freedom of
speech, but.” I believe in the right of anyone to express any opinion, no matter how wild, radical, blasphemous, or loathsome such opinion might be; and no matter how unpopular, vicious, or discredited the speaker may be.
Mark you, I’m not talking of incitements to violence or violations of law; those are not opinions. Thought must be free. Men cannot think unless they express themselves. Is this an absolute? Yes, just as the right to think is an absolute. Are there no exceptions? None whatever. Has not society the right to protect itself against noxious ideas? No. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Noxious ideas are like champagne; expose them to the air and they fall flat.” Who can be certain of what is the truth unless
In my practice of law, particularly in those cases where the liberties of people are at issue, I have learned that the course of justice is not always straight and swift. For what I have seen has convinced me that men are progressing. I believe that it is our time-tested democratic institutions which makes this progress possible. For this reason, I am against anything which serves to weaken those institutions. I’m against congressional investigations into men’s opinions. I’m against loyalty oaths. I’m against guilt by association. I believe that no man should lose his reputation, his liberty, or his property, except by judgment of court after fair trial according to Anglo-Saxon procedure.
Freedom is practical, as well as ideological values. As long as men have the right freely to persuade and secretly to vote, we have a method of bringing about changes in our society, no matter how radical, without force or violence. Nor is it a matter of chance that the most prosperous and progressive countries in the world are, likewise, the freest.
Because I am unswervingly determined to help keep America free and secure, I derive the deepest satisfaction in doing everything I can to preserve and enlarge those liberties which have made our country great. If my efforts meet with any success, I think I will have reason to feel that I have been privileged to serve what I believe in, in the way that I know best.
Those were the sincere beliefs of New York attorney Arthur Garfield Hays, for thirty years the council for the American Civil Liberties Union, a devoted and conscientious citizen.