Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger and Government Violation of the First Amendment

If you think that some of us are being overly upset about the recent revelations of illegal NSA spying, remember our recent history. One is HUAC.  For more than 30 years the US House had a "House UnAmerican Activities Committee" which by itself is pretty much a violation of the Constitution. Led by various Chairmen and members who did not understand or agree with the First Amendment (e.g. Richard Nixon in the late 1940s), it ruined a lot of lives and careers.  

In this case in 1955, Chairman Francis Walter (D-Pa) and HUAC were after Pete Seeger for singing at communist, labor, and civil rights events.  I just read the full transcript, which is wonderful and scary at the same time. This began 7 years of prosecution for Seeger, who was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about where he sang.  In 1961 he was sentenced to 10 years in jail (ultimately overturned). He paid a heavy financial price.

He said a version of the following, over and over:

"I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them."

A picture and the full transcript are at this link.

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