Let Freedom Ring, November 1953
Anti-Communist sentiment took the United States by storm in the early 1950s. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a special congressional committee dedicated to investigating Communist affairs within the country, was leading a crusade against labor unions and other governmental organizations. Even the Cold War escalated, many Americans questioned the tactics the US government used to root out and punish suspected Communists and Communist sympathizers. A central cause of frustration was the Smith Act of 1940. In theory, the act protected against Communist threats by making any action supporting the overthrow of the government illegal. In practice, it could be used to outlaw political associations, rallies, and even the circulation of books and pamphlets that promoted Communist ideology. Fighting back against what they perceived to be transgressions of the First Amendment, the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Congress (PCRC) began publishing a newsletter in November 1953 entitled Let Freedom Ring, which pushed back against a culture that associated dissent with Communism.
The central argument made by critics of extreme anti-Communist tactics was that the government was exploiting Americans' fears in order to violate First Amendment rights. The first edition of Let Freedom Ring was littered with references to First Amendment protections withering away. It argued that the FBI was unjustly arresting people for exercising their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly—punishing crimes of thought rather than true criminal actions. It also warned of the dangers represented by fearmongers such as Senator McCarthy, who had fraudulently asserted that he carried a list of 200 known Communists in the government and the entertainment industry. Publications like Let Freedom Ring were indicative of the rising belief that government censorship of public organization and free speech were unacceptable, even in the context of fighting domestic Communism.
In contrast to the American Women Against Communism mailer, which hints at some of the reasons Americans had to fear and condemn Communism, this newsletter sought to differentiate Americans who held unpopular opinions from true Soviet Communist infiltrators. It argued that questioning America's foreign and domestic policy was not the same thing as trying to overthrow the government. Instead, Let Freedom Ring celebrated and defended the rights derived from the Constitution, especially Americans' freedom of speech.
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