Corliss Lamont, The Bill of Rights,
National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
The Bill of Rights
Corliss Lamont was a fierce champion of The Bill of Rights, the name given to the first ten Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights was ratified by the States in 1791. These Amendments guaranteed the rights of individuals against intrusion by the federal government. However, only constant testing in the courts has prevented these rights from being eroded. U.S. citizens who see their rights being threatened with abuses of authority or with new, restrictive laws which constitute an infringement of these rights can challenge and bring lawsuit against the Government.
Corliss successfully challenged in the courts the excesses of Government on many occasions. Corliss' lawyer, Philip Wittenberg, determined that Senator Joseph McCarthy was not duly authorized to pursue his witch hunts and was instrumental in helping to shut him down. On another occasion, in 1979, when successfully represented by NECLC counsels Leonard Boudin and Michael Krinsky, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was required to pay a fine and to apologize to Corliss for having illegally opened his mail. Corliss was very proud of his successful court cases and always reminded us that U.S. citizens must be ever vigilant to protect their precious civil liberties which are guaranteed by The Bill of Rights.
We've prepared a simple Web page depicting The Bill of Rights. Please note that due to the large size, 1200 pixels wide by 1575 pixels high, you may need to scroll both horizontally and vertically in order to view the entire document. [ Note to WebTV® users - due to the extreme width, the page will not display correctly. ] Be sure to return back to this page afterwards by using either the link provided at the bottom of the page or your browser's 'Back' button.
We've also prepared a copy of The Bill of Rights which has been specially designed to be suitable for printing. Specifications of this Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) file are as follows:
File name - tbor-prt.gif
File format - 89a
File size - 2,085,373 bytes
Color depth - 4-bit (Indexed 16-color)
Compression - LZW (Lempel-Ziv-Welch)
Image dimensions - 2400 pixels wide by 3150 pixels high
Interlacing - None
Print size - 8.0 inches wide by 10.5 inches high (Letter)
Transparency - None
To download the GIF file to your system:
Simply right-click (Windows) or Control-click or click-and-hold (Macintosh) on this link and in the small pop-up context menu window which appears choose "Save Target As..." or Save Link As...". This will bring up the file save dialog which allows you to specify the filename and location on your local hard disk drive where you want to save the downloaded file. After the file has fully downloaded, it can then be opened and printed by any bitmap (raster) graphics application program which supports GIF files.
From a link found on our Corliss Lamont Centenary Civil Liberties Forum page, you can download an Adobe Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format) version of The Bill of Rights which is suitable both for on-screen viewing and printing. At just 165,681 bytes, the PDF file is much smaller than the GIF file offered above.
One of Corliss Lamont's favorite organizations was the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC), of which he was Chairman.
Edith Tiger, Corliss' dear and respected friend, was with NECLC for more than 40 years, 30 of them as its Executive Director. She was the first woman to serve as head of a national civil liberties organization. Her leadership was courageous.
The organization was founded by six noted civil libertarians: theologian Dr. Paul Lehmann; journalist I.F. Stone; retired banker James Imbrie; E. Franklin Frazier, sociologist and Black activist; professor Henry Pratt Fairchild; and H.H. Wilson, political scientist.
The Committee achieved many civil liberties triumphs in the courts. Here are excerpts from the Bill of Rights Journal describing their activities over the years, starting with a statement of purpose:
In Defense of Freedom: The Work of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
The National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee was a non-partisan organization dedicated to safeguarding existing civil and political freedoms and extending the boundaries of justice and equity in American life. The NECLC was founded in 1951 with one objective: to reestablish the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights. For 46 years, the NECLC pursued this single-minded goal, through test cases involving freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right of people to assemble or to travel freely, to remain silent in the face of an inquisition, and to refuse to fight an illegal and immoral war. Above all, it defended the right to dissent. And it expanded the meaning of freedom to include rights previously denied to women and minorities.
Freedom of Speech and Association
NECLC was begun in the early days of the Cold War, to protect the rights of our citizens to hold unorthodox views and to associate for the purposes of opposing official Cold War policies, and to defend the victims of the House Un-American Activities Committee against political interrogation and repression. At that time, the right to travel outside the United States was contingent on a security clearance by the State Department. The Attorney General's office had compiled a list of 300 "subversive" organizations, and membership in any of them automatically disqualified an applicant for clearance.
The American artist Rockwell Kent and the noted psychiatrist Dr. Walter Briehl were among thousands of Americans whose right to travel abroad was abrogated in this fashion. On their behalf, NECLC won its first landmark victory in 1958 in the case of Kent v. Dulles, and the Attorney General's list was stricken. The organization also took the cases of many people who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The Struggle for Equality and the Rights of Labor
Since the McCarthy period, there hasn't yet come a time when there wasn't a struggle to protect the civil and political rights of the American people.
In the case of Peck v. State of Alabama and the FBI, NECLC sued the FBI for damages on behalf of James Peck, a young Freedom Rider who had been beaten into unconsciousness by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama in 1961. In an unprecedented decision, the court ruled against the FBI that the government has the common law duty to protect citizens when it has notice of impending violence.
The organization won another landmark case in 1974 in Farmworkers v. A&P, when it defended the United Farm Workers' right to boycott The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company for selling non-union grapes and lettuce.
The Peoples' Right to Know
In 1981 NECLC won a victory for whistleblowers everywhere in the case of Prochaska v. Pediaczko, which involved a Pennsylvania child welfare worker who was suspended when he dared to speak out publicly against the illegal practices of his superiors.
During the '80s the organization also defended the right of foreign dissidents to come to the United States, in test cases that supported the right of Americans to hear dissenting opinions against the restrictions imposed by the McCarran-Walter Act. In Allende v. Secretary of State, for example, NECLC fought in the courts for 10 years to get a visa for the wife of the assassinated President of Chile, and won the case in 1987 in yet another victory for the peoples' "right to know."
How Does a Human Right Become a Civil Liberty?
In 1948 the United Nations issued a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of food, housing, clothing and medical care, and the right to security in the event of sickness, unemployment and old age. Motherhood and childhood are singled out as requiring special care and assistance.
Though the United States signed the Declaration, these rights are not enforced in our country. In fact, they are deteriorating. One million teenagers become pregnant every year, and one out of five children lives in poverty. Thirty-six million Americans have no medical insurance. The ranks of the homeless increase every day. And unemployment is the spectre of the '90s.
But we have already won the freedom to make these human rights a reality for all of us, through The Bill of Rights. We have the freedom to speak out, the freedom to demonstrate, the freedom to petition, as well as the freedom to choose our representatives and the freedom to vote...civil liberties that half the world is fighting for today.
To guarantee the right to a job, the right to a home, and the right to medical care for all our citizens, we must continue to uphold and strengthen The Bill of Rights.
Do these ideas seem radical and new? Well, here is a test for you history buffs. In what year did which President of the United States make the following statements to the American public?
"We cannot grant civil rights; we cannot implement The Bill of Rights as part of the Constitution unless we complement it with an Economic Bill of Rights.
"...A second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all...regardless of station, race or creed. Among these are:
"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
"The right of every family to a decent home;
"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears, old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
"The right to a good education.
"All of these rights spell security."
(Here's a hint, if you haven't guessed by now).
"And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being."
Well, history buffs, did you guess that the author of these radical sentiments was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union message?
The Hugo Gellert illustration shown below appeared on the cover of the Winter, 1997 issue of Bill of Rights Journal, the theme of which was the NECLC campaign for Employment As a Constitutional Right...the right to dignity and a decent wage.
In November 1997, the NECLC merged with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit legal/educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. For more information, contact:
Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012 USA
Voice (212) 614-6464, Fax (212) 614-6499
Be sure to visit
Bob Dylan and the NECLC
for additional information on the
National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
and its presentation of the 1963 Tom Paine Award
to singer/song writer Bob Dylan.
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This page last revised: January 15, 2012.