National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1947-1954: We struggle to preserve freedom in a dangerous world

1950
Does the fight against Communism compromise our civil liberties?

After World War II fears about the spread of Communism provoked a government campaign to root out Communist influence in American life. Believing that the security of the nation was at stake, many American’s supported these efforts. Others declared the campaign a “witch hunt” that itself threatened basic American freedoms.



Transcript

JOHN: In World War II, I laid my life on the line for freedom. We were attacked and we went to war and we won. Now you're going to tell me we should just sit there and do nothing while these Communists are plotting to destroy us, right here in America.

LINDA: The Soviet Union may be a powerful enemy, but a handful of Soviet sympathizers aren't going to take over the country. Remember what it was you were fighting to defend - a Constitution that protects the right of every American to say what he thinks and to think whatever he wants. You want to destroy America? Start taking away people's rights just because you disagree with them.

JOHN: When national security is at stake, there have to be limits, Linda. The Communist Party advocates the violent overthrow of our government. That is a crime, according to Congress, and the Supreme Court says they're right.

LINDA: There's something wrong when Congress makes it a crime just to say that another political system is better than ours. If it wasn't for people being free to speak out for what they believed, we'd still have slaves and I wouldn't be allowed to vote.

JOHN: This is different. They already found a Communist spy in the state department. Another one gave A-bomb secrets to the Russians. Moscow isn't afraid to say that they want to take over the world. I'm not afraid to say they can't have it.

LINDA: If someone is acting to overthrow the government, then charge him, try him and convict him. But we can't make dissent illegal. You're acting like anyone who criticizes our government is a Communist spy.

JOHN: Dissent is one thing, but subversion is another. These Communists will use anything against us, even our own Constitution - look how they're all so happy to use the Fifth Amendment so they don't have to admit they're Communists.

LINDA: The Fifth Amendment says that you don't have to say anything that can be used against you in court, and if it wasn’t a crime just belonging to the Communist Party - if they didn't have to fear losing their jobs and livelihoods because they hold different beliefs than most of us - they wouldn't have to take the Fifth.

JOHN: Which side are you on?

LINDA: The benefits of free thought far outweigh the dangers. Why do you think the First Amendment protecting free expression comes first? Because the rest of the Bill of Rights is worthless without it.

JOHN: It's our Constitution, not the Communists'.

LINDA: It's everyone's Constitution, and it should protect everyone's rights, including the right to hold "subversive" beliefs, like that one from 1776 about the government deriving from the will of the People. Remember whose country was born in a revolution that changed the world...

JOHN: You're starting to sound like one of them.

LINDA: Are you kidding? They couldn't even have this conversation in Moscow.

JOHN: That's my point.

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