We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
United States Constitution, First Amendment, 1791
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
William J. Brennan, majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson, 1989
I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
James Baldwin, 1955
The founders of our country were wise enough to appreciate paradox. They recognized that quiet doesn’t necessarily mean peace; that silence doesn’t always denote assent; that dissent doesn’t mean disloyalty.
Don Wycliff, Chicago Tribune, June 2, 2005
Give the government the tools to punish those it doesn’t like or silence what it doesn’t want to hear, and you undermine democracy. Give people the tools to choose what they see and hear, and you enhance democracy.
Sumner Redstone, speech to The Media Institute, October 16, 2006
Whether in Mormons or Methodists, prophets or presidents, distaste for dissent and opposition to open inquiry are not admirable qualities and do not foster freedom.
William Martin, Texas Monthly, November 2007
There is no such crime as a crime of thought; there are only crimes of action.
There are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.
Ayn Rand, 1957
Do not…regard the critics as questionable patriots. What were Washington and Jefferson and Adams but profound critics of the colonial status quo?
Adlai E. Stevenson, 1963
Nothing is more patriotic than social criticism. Editorial cartoons are as irreverent as the Boston Tea Party and as American as the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment doesn’t exist so that we can freely praise our elected officials, it exists so we can freely criticize them…
Chris Lamb, Editor & Publisher, February 13, 2004
We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.
To defend freedom, in short, is—first of all—to respect freedom. That respect demands another, quite simple kind of respect—respect for the integrity of fellow citizens who enjoy their right to disagree.
Dwight Eisenhower, October 3, 1952
Somehow the notion has taken hold in our country that patriotism involves repression. When it comes to freedom of expression, the threat level has been raised to red.
“Lisa Moore” in Funky Winkerbean, Nov. 28, 2005
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of the people not to listen.
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.
Edward R. Murrow, See it Now, March 9, 1954
Politics & Religion
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
The idea [that] religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.
Jerry Falwell, 1976
I believe in an America where separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president—should he be a Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote, where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
John F. Kennedy, to a group of Protestant clergymen in Houston, 1960
…secularism is absolutely necessary for there to be the basis of a conversation. If your position is that you have a pipeline to God, that God has revealed to you the truth and that your case is built on the fact as you see it that God has spoken, there’s no basis for a conversation. There’s no basis for negotiation. There’s no basis for discussion.
Hendrik Hertzberg, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 8, 2004
And let us understand that if you do not have a greater belief in democracy than you do in your religion you will eventually have less democracy. And that you may even lose your religion, because, as it turns out, the only people who are really tolerant of other people’s religions are people who are really not that religious.
Fran Lebowitz, Vanity Fair, October 2004
What was important to these [religious conservative] voters, it appears, was not Bush’s public record but what they conceived to be his private soul. He is a good Christian, so his policy failures are forgivable. He is a saved sinner, so the dissipations of his early and middle years are not tokens of a weak character but testaments to the transformative power of his faith. He relies on God for guidance, so his intellectual laziness is not a danger.
Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, Nov. 15, 2004
And let us finally assess what has become of our prospects now that the state feels so free to state its preference for the church. Our future is no longer presented to us as our future, but rather as our destiny. And our destiny is presented to us as a choice between those who are lying in wait and those who are waiting to lie.
Fran Lebowitz, Vanity Fair, October 2004
The only sin which we never forgive in each other is difference of opinion.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1870
I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787
Politics is not a game. It’s about making serious decisions about people’s lives. It always has and it always will be.
Craig Washington, March 8, 1994
If you know the answer, tell them what you know. If you don’t know, tell them you don’t know. If you know but you can’t say, tell them that. But don’t ever lie.
Bill Kraus, adviser to Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus, 1983; quoted by Ron McCrea
Our national government has more and more become a Potemkin village, a Hollywood set where the houses look welcoming and the people speak with noble words, but it’s mostly a facade to distract us from the hollowness of those we elected.
Sydney Schanberg, The Village Voice, Sept. 13, 2005
…you can’t run a democracy this way, with everybody being afraid of having his political positions known.
Antonin Scalia, in oral arguments on Doe v. Reed, April 28, 2010
…in today’s Washington, loyalty to the team displaces loyalty to the truth. Loyalty to the team explains why President Bush doesn’t fire people who serve him poorly, and why, as a result, his policies are often not well executed.
David Brooks, The New York Times, Sept. 29, 2005
Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.
John McCain, 2000
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
John Kenneth Galbraith, interview with Toronto Globe and Mail, July 6, 2002
There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism….The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.
Theodore Roosevelt, speech to the Knights of Columbus, New York, October 12, 1915
We are not and never have been a multicultural society. We are a multiethnic society that is unicultural. That is an important distinction. The central premise of the American culture is a simple one: our differences as human beings are less significant than the things we have in common. Group identities are irrelevant; individual rights are paramount.
Joe Klein, Newsweek, March 14, 1994
…[I write from] an American Negro tradition which teaches one to deflect racial provocation and to master and contain pain. It is a tradition which abhors as obscene any trading on one’s own anguish for gain and sympathy; which springs not from a desire to deny the harshness of existence but from a will to deal with it as men at their best have always done.
Ralph Ellison, “The World and the Jug” 1963
Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball…
Jacques Barzun, God’s Country and Mine, 1954
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963
Our democracy must not only be the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.
Bill Clinton, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1993
If we could have but one generation of properly born, trained, educated and healthy children, a thousand other problems of government would vanish.
White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, 1930
After 224 years, the American revolution continues. We remain a new nation. And as long as our dreams outweigh our memories, America will be forever young. That is our destiny. And this is our moment.
Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 27, 2000
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
Barack Obama, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Robert F. Kennedy, University of Cape Town, June 1966
The integrity of our democracy isn’t threatened when a president breaks the law. It’s threatened when we do nothing about it.
Dahlia Lithwick, September 23, 2019