Nat Hentoff is one of America's foremost and most passsionate writers about civil liberties and civil rights. In Living the Bill of Rights, he has taken what is too often thought of as an abstract issue and enlivened it by focusing on representative individuals for whom the Constitution is a vital part of life.
As the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan told Hentoff, Americans need to know how :American liberties were won--and what it takes to keep them alive...and about the actual people who are not afraid to fight to keep on being free Americans." Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy underlined this need when he wrote, "The Constitution needs allegiance and loyalty and renewal and understanding each generation, or else it's not going to last."
With characteristic eloquence, Hentoff covers the full range of American life in these inspiring and moving profiles and stories and portrays such fighters for the Bill of Rights as a high school senior in Tennessee who is born-again Christian; a black Texas lawyer fired by the local NAACP for representing a Klan wizard on constitutional grounds; Justice William Brennan himself; another Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas, the preeminent; and a professional basketball star who, for religious reasons, would not participate in a display of mass loyalty to the American flag.
Adding to the book's breadth are stories about such additional public and private heroes as Dr. Kenneth Clark, a resolute African-American school integrationist when more and more Americans, including some blacks, are abandoning that goal; a Jewish teacher at a black university who spoke out compellingly against black anti-Semitism; a young white mother who refused to allow anyone to stereotype her or her children by their color; a black high school student who did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because she believes there is not equal justice for all in this land; and finally, among other paladins of liberty, a Southern lawyer with clients on death row whom he will not abandon.
In Living the Bill of Rights, Hentoff illuminates the basic necessity--and fragility--of our rights and liberties.
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Through portrayals of the famous (Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and William Brennan) and the not-so-famous (Anthony Griffin, a black lawyer who, as an ACLU volunteer, defended the First Amendment rights of the Ku Klux Klan), Nat Hentoff pays tribute to American citizens whose lives embody the values and principles of the U.S. Constitution. For Hentoff, that means a strict insistence on individual rights that leaves him opposed to mandatory prayer and pledges of allegiance in schools, the suppression of prisoners' civil liberties, and quota-based affirmative action programs. President Bill Clinton emerges as a particular object of Hentoff's scorn, as much for conducting an official state meeting with the chief architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre as for domestic policies, such as the failed Communications Decency Act, that are an "evisceration of basic liberties." "Unless more Americans know the Constitution and live the Bill of Rights," Hentoff argues, "the future of the nation as a strongly functioning constitutional democracy will be at risk." Although you may not agree with Hentoff's particular authorial focus--First Amendment enthusiasts will be thrilled with his emphasis on free expression, while Second Amendment advocates will have to search elsewhere for their champion--Living the Bill of Rights should make more Americans think about what it means to be an American.About the Author:
Nat Hentoff is the prolific and successful author of many articles and books, including novels for children and adults; biographies; writings on jazz, politics, and education; and his extensive, widely praised work on civil liberties and rights. His syndicated column, "Sweet Land of Liberty," appears in the Washington Post and in more than two hundred other newspapers, and he is a weekly contributor to the Village Voice. Hentoff is a frequent guest on local and national television and radio. He lives in New York City with his wife, Margot.
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