Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ain't that America, land of the free...

Did you know that under the Sedition Act of 1918, an American could be sent to prison for 20 years for, and I quote,
uttering, printing, writing, or publishing any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language intended to cause contempt, scorn, contumely or disrepute as regards the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution, or the flag, or the uniform of the Army or Navy...
(There are a bunch of other things after that elipses, but they're not as interesting.) So you literally could be sentenced to 20 years in prison for saying "I think the American flag is ugly." There were acutally some people sentenced to 20 years for doing exactly that, although I think they were all pardoned after a couple of years. But still. Can you imagine spending two years in prison for saying "those knee breeches are a little goofy?"

So much for the First Amendment.

I'm sort of kicking around the idea of trying to track down the descendents of some of the people convicted under the Sedition Act. I'm curious about it. Do they know their great grandfathers went to prison for speech crimes? What do they make of that? Does it influence how they think about civil liberties issues today?

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