Is The 1st Amendment In Jeopardy?


After reading Lea’s post of March 17, I have been giving a lot of thought to the question: “Where do you get your ideas?” We always respond that there are many sources from the media to our life experiences. It has led me to consider what might happen if we lost our freedom to express our personal, religious, and political beliefs.

Of late the news has been disturbing. I’m not alluding to the results of the current election, but about the state of our institutes of higher education. When I was a college student the environment encouraged us to think and if someone disagreed with our point of view at least listen and respect them. This doesn’t seem to be the case today. What disturbs me more is that this is not unique to modern times or to the United States. The first thing an autocratic dictator does is to stifle any opposition, both written and verbal. The most blatant example of this was in 1930s Germany.

On the night of May 10, 1933, an event unseen in Europe since the Middle Ages occurred as German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books with “unGerman” ideas.

The students, along with brownshirted storm troopers, tossed heaps of books into a bonfire while giving the Hitler arm-salute and singing Nazi anthems. Among the 20,000 volumes hurled into the flames were the writings of Henri Barbusse, Franz Boas, John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Friedrich Förster, Sigmund Freud, John Galsworthy, André Gide, Ernst Glaeser, Maxim Gorki, Werner Hegemann, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kästner, Helen Keller, Alfred Kerr, Jack London, Emil Ludwig, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Hugo Preuss, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Walther Rathenau, Margaret Sanger, Arthur Schnitzler, Upton Sinclair, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, H.G. Wells, Theodor Wolff, Emilé Zola, Arnold Zweig, and Stefan Zweig.

Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels joined the students at the bonfire and declared: “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end…The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November [Democratic] Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise…”

German Students Burn Books with unGerman content.

Germany was now led by a self-educated, high school drop-out named Adolf Hitler, who was by nature strongly anti-intellectual. For Hitler, the reawakening of the long-dormant Germanic spirit, with its racial and militaristic qualities, was far more important than any traditional notions of learning.

Before Hitler, German university towns had been counted among the world’s great centers of scientific innovation and literary scholarship. Under Hitler, Germany’s intellectual vitality quickly began to diminish. Truth, rational thinking and objective knowledge, the foundation stones of Western Civilization, were denounced by Nazified students and professors in favor of mysticism, speculation and collective thinking toward a common goal – the pursuit of a glorious future for Germany.

The youth-oriented Nazi movement had always attracted a sizable following among right-leaning university students. Even back in the 1920s they sensed Nazism might be the wave of the future. They joined the National Socialist German Students’ League, put on swastika armbands and harassed any anti-Nazi teachers.

Now, many formerly reluctant professors were swept along by the outpouring of student enthusiasm that followed Hitler’s seizure of power. Most of the professors eagerly surrendered their intellectual honesty and took the required Nazi oath of allegiance. They also wanted to curry favor with Nazi Party officials in order to grab one of the academic vacancies resulting from the mass expulsion of Jewish professors and deans.

The entire teaching profession throughout Germany, from elementary schools to university level, had been purged of Jewish instructors and anyone deemed politically suspect, regardless of their proven teaching abilities or achievements, including 20 past (and future) Nobel Prize winners. About ten percent of Germany’s university teaching force was sacked in 1933-34, with devastating results for disciplines such as quantum physics and mathematics where Jews had been prominent. The world’s premier physicist, Albert Einstein, settled in the United States along with many other intellectual refugees from Hitler’s Germany.

Lovers of truth and freedom who remained behind in Germany only managed to escape through the phenomenon of inner-emigration. The Nazis could never actually know one’s inner-most thoughts as long as one maintained a kind of poker face and didn’t reveal those private thoughts. However, this could also be a dreadfully lonely existence.

Eventually, small groups of like-minded students and professors still opposed to Nazism found each other. They sometimes held clandestine off-campus discussions featuring a free exchange of ideas. One such group based at the University of Munich became known as the White Rose and boldly distributed leaflets demanding that Hitler “return to us the personal freedom which is the most valuable possession of each German, and of which he has cheated us in the lowest possible manner.” Two members of the group, Hans and Sophie Scholl, were arrested by the Gestapo for this and executed.

German Students Gathering Books That disagree with Nazi Propaganda

In the college classroom, professors gave lectures amid the nagging fear they might be denounced by one of their students for any reason and possibly wind up in a concentration camp. Politically ambitious teachers sometimes kept secret dossiers on the utterances and activities of their fellow educators which could be turned over to the Gestapo to further their own careers. The widespread insecurity that resulted caused academic timidity which further lowered educational standards.

Grammar schools and high schools throughout Germany now had National Socialist teachers of questionable ability forming young minds in strict adherence to the Party motto: “The supreme task of the schools is the education of youth for the service of Volk and State in the National Socialist spirit.” They taught Nazi propaganda as truth and had their young students recite it back from memory.

In this New Order, anyone refusing to conform was simply removed from society and sent away for a special kind of re-education within the confines of a concentration camp. There they would be broken physically, mentally and spiritually until they either submitted completely or died. The first such camp was Dachau located near Munich. It was so successful that it became the model for all subsequent concentration camps, and there would be hundreds of them.

We Americans have a tendency to ignore impending threats by burying our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Lets take a few minutes to think about the atmosphere of intolerance that seems to pervade our colleges and universities today. Professors encourage students to attend protests (many of which have turned into violent riots) rather than class and in many cases join them in those protests which have a single purpose, to suppress the communication of ideas that disagree with their personal beliefs. There have been reports of faculty members telling students that if they vote a certain way they will be given an F. I am very concerned when I see speakers disrupted by protesters and hecklers when they hold a talk or town hall. If you don’t agree with a speaker, do the people who came to hear what he or she has to say a favor: STAY AWAY! At the very least challenge the speaker during the question and answer period of the talk by asking an intelligent and well thought out question.

As a veteran who spent eight years of his life defending the rights given us by our U. S. Constitution this disturbs me greatly. I have seen what happens to a country when a given philosophy becomes THE philosophy. So all that said, here’s my question. Do we as freedom-loving Americans want to spend thousands of dollars in tuition (not to mention the huge amounts of student loan debt) to have our youth, the leaders of tomorrow, indoctrinated and told what to think rather than how to think? Is there a chance that the freedoms given us in the 1st Amendment will be taken away or restricted? Is there a burning of the books in our future?

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16 Responses to Is The 1st Amendment In Jeopardy?

  1. Gail Arnold says:

    It is not only higher education that has this problem. Increasingly, public schools at all levels discourage conflicting viewpoints by students. This is, I believe, one of the main reasons for the incredible rise in the number of parents who have chosen to home school their children.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I have often said that I’m thankful that I’m not a youngster today. I shudder to think what things will be like when my 24 and 22 year old grandsons are my age.

    • Gail Arnold says:

      My granddaughters are only 4 and 7, and I am grateful every day that my daughter home schools them. The internet is a wonderful resource for anyone who contemplates this.

  3. I must admit that our public education system is a farce. I know many people who have taught their children many of the basic things they need to know before they start school. However, once our so called educators have control of them, they quickly pull the advanced students back to the norm. Unfortunately, those kids who are unprepared get lost. I think back to when I was in school and way back then we should have seen this coming. Students who were rejected by many universities attended normal schools (later called teacher colleges) and became educators for the wrong reasons. As always happens the errors of one generation are paid for by those that follow. My personal opinion is (for what it’s worth) is that the United States is weel mon its way to becoming a third world country.

  4. in that last sentence weel mon should read well on

  5. David Plimpton says:

    Great discussion and questions.

    I think all of our civil liberties, including freedom of speech, are under attack by a corporate oligarchic elite (including the mainstream media), which has bought and controls both major parties and the government. They have expropriated and squandered our public resources and treasure for the interests of the few. Trump is just the latest, most egregious example, continuing the downward slide towards Fascism and, as you say, a third world country for 95% (pick your percentage) of Americans.

    Witness the national security laws and restrictions, spying, intolerance of immigrants and minorities, fear and hatred of others with opposing views, and push for conformity with majority views. The Press is already practicing censorship so that the news reflects for the most part the message and interests of the ruling elite.

    Last year, some of South Portland High School’s most gifted students protested having to say the Pledge of Allegiance. All they asked was that their administrators announce that it was optional (which it is under the law) and that those who didn’t say it be asked to maintain respectful silence while it was recited by those who wished to say it.

    The administration and teachers balked and there was a storm of hateful comments and protest against the students, saying they didn’t love their country or respect the sacrifices others had made for it. It was a scary reminder of the experiences in Nazi Germany which you catalogue.

    Well, I’ll say what I imagine those students were thinking: a lot of the time I don’t love my country, what it currently stands for, what it’s doing in the world and not doing for its people at home. I respect the sacrifices of America’s fighting men and women, but not the wars they’re fighting all over the world, which don’t help and actually hurt our national security — both physical and economic. I don’t get this mindless worship of our military might and machine. It reminds me of Germans’ reverence for the Wehrmacht in WWII. I think that makes me a patriot, not a traitor, like some of our leaders selling out our country. We need to read the Declaration of Independence again to understand why our nation was established — to provide a mantle of protection for all of the people and allow them the reasonable pursuit of life, liberty and happiness — not an easy thing to do today .

    • Forty years ago I took a a political science course on elitist theory. If it was true in 1976 (at that time the professor said it was the top 5%) that a small minority actually has enough money to buy anything they want . . . that includes power, politicians, the media, etc. Twenty years ago I watched 60 Minutes for the last time because it became obvious to me that they will film 20 hours to find the 20 minutes that shows what they want their viewers to know. If you hear that 60 Minutes is in your lobby to ask whether or not you’re a serial killer and you refuse to even entertain such an idiotic premise, they will say “We tried to get Mr./Mrs. So-And-So to speak with us but they refused.” and do it in such a way that makes it look as if you are and are hiding from them. I have long since stopped watching the major network news and seldom buy newspapers. What really scares me is the people who believe that everything they need to know is found on television, in movies, and resides on the internet! Why isn’t George Orwell required reading in our schools! The future of our country (and the world) is soon going to be in the hands of a generation who has been programmed to never question anyone who has what was formerly a title of respect. For example: Professor, teacher, congressman/woman, and senator.

      • David Plimpton says:


      • Sandra Johnson says:

        If you don’t watch the network news, read newspapers, etc. then where do you get your information?

      • I watch several cable news channels and even then it’s difficult to separate propanba from fact. Wouldn’t it be nice if reporters did just that? Report the news without trying to slant it to prove their agenda. I’d have a stroke if I was to see an unbiased nonpartisan news program.

      • David Plimpton says:

        It’s probably true that “unbiased media resources” has become an oxymoron. But at least as an antidote to the mainstream media and newspapers and I include the Press Herald in this, there are a growing number of independent news sources available to anyone with access to the internet. The following are some, many stating that they are “non-partisan, independent and non-profit.” Some are more transparent than others; a couple outline a code of journalistic ethics they follow:

        Reason (
        The Christian Science Monitor (
        Truthout (
        Reuters (
        Democracy Now! (
        ProPublica (
        The Center for Public Integrity (
        Reveal (The Center for Investigative Reporting) (
        AllSides (
        C-SPAN (
        Who, What, Why (
        The Intercept (
        Consortium News (
        Mint Press News (
        Newsbud (
        Alternet (
        Truthdig (
        Mondoweiss (
        Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
        Counterpunch (
        Tom Dispatch (
        Salon (
        Soapboxie (

  6. Beth Clark says:

    This background and the questions you raised are important for these times. I have never felt my freedom of speech to be so threatened. I didn’t always feel that my college professors were welcoming of diverse opinions. I didn’t feel personally threatened, but I have had grades lowered because I disagreed with the professor. I was at first surprised to see Helen Keller on your list until I remembered that people with disabilities were some of the first to be put to death by the Nazi regime. A sobering reminder.

    • I too was surprised when her name turned up in my research. I feel that any politician or educator who actively acts to suppress anyone’s right to voice their opinion should be either impeached or terminated.

  7. Sandra Johnson says:

    I disagree with staying away from a speaker. The speaker will get the idea that everyone agrees with him. There are quiet ways to protest. And even though it hurts me almost physically to listen to someone I don’t agree with, I want that person to have the freedom to express their beliefs respectfully. Within reason!

    • That’s really all I ask. These protesters who interrupt and shout down the speaker should realize that their message gets lost in the method of delivery. I used to watch the Sunday morning political commentary shows, but since their guest interrupt and talk over anyone with an opposing view and these so-called moderators let it continue, I’ve stopped. It doesn’t bode well for our society when things reach the point where you don’t know who to listen to, let alone believe.

  8. Sandra Johnson says:

    And when the internet is not working I can read my newspaper. I have two and like to compare the stories and editorials. When it is in print you have to stand behind what you wrote. I will check out those news sites. But all will reflect an opinion. I still have to filter.
    And yes, everyone speaking over the other person does really annoy me.

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