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In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America's Bill of Rights (Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards)) Hardcover – July 1, 2003
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5 Up-Once again, Freedman demonstrates his masterful ability to focus on those aspects of a historical event, figure, or, in this case, document, that will intrigue readers and give history a sense of immediacy. He prefaces his thorough examination of the Bill of Rights with some engaging questions: Can schoolchildren be required to salute the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Can a rap group be prosecuted for using "obscene" lyrics? Does the Constitution allow school officials to use physical punishment? Freedman briefly discusses the evolution of the Constitution and Bill of Rights from ideas first set forth in the Magna Carta and then examines the first 10 amendments in individual chapters packed with potential scenarios or real-life examples of infringements of Constitutional rights. Milton Meltzer's The Bill of Rights (HarperCollins, 1990), which is similar in scope, was written before the privacy issues raised by the advent of the Internet, new technological spying capabilities, the question of whether homeland security can be attained without sacrificing Sixth Amendment protections, and other issues that are considered here. The author describes and quotes from Supreme Court cases, which are listed in an index giving both print and online sources for the full texts of the decisions. Black-and-white photos and reproductions appear throughout. This excellent study of the continually evolving meaning and interpretation of the Bill of Rights is a fine companion volume to Freedman's Give Me Liberty! (Holiday, 2000) and is an essential purchase for all libraries.
Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Gr. 5-10. Freedman is at his best in this compelling, timely discussion of the Constitution and civil liberties. In his signature clear, conversational prose, he talks about the history of the Bill of Rights, from the time it was first voted on two centuries ago through the ongoing struggle to keep people free. What does that word people mean? For a long time, the term didn't include African Americans, Native Americans, or women. Freedman devotes a chapter to each amendment, covering its origin, various interpretations, landmark Supreme Court cases, and, always, the contemporary scene, including the conflicts now raging about national security and individual freedom in the aftermath of 9/11. He cites many cases involving young people and he is careful to discuss many sides of controversial topics such as abortion and capital punishment. The book design is beautiful, with thick paper, lots of white space, historical prints (including an archival print of the Bill of Rights), and lots of photos. This is a must for classroom discussion and personal interest, and the source notes and annotated bibliography at the back, as spaciously laid out as the text, will help readers find out more. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The coverage of the rest of the Amendments is pretty good, except the 10th. Here again we see an anti-federalism interpretation which disturbs me. The authors write as if it is a mystery what we should delegate to the states. Then ch. 13 is entitled, "Madison's most valuable amendment," the one that didn't get included. Well, this is what Madison argued, but obviously the others in Congress didn't agree for federalist reasons. If you are going to use this book, find other sources on the 2nd and 10th.
IN DEFENSE OF LIBERTY: THE STORY OF AMERICA'S BILL OF RIGHTS is first a brief history of the formulation of the US Bill of Rights. It is also a look at how the black-robed trustees of the "462 words written two centuries ago" which "promise the basic civil liberties that all Americans enjoy as their birthright" have not always kept that promise for all Americans, and it examines how these words are interpreted and reinterpreted as the group of individuals serving on the Supreme Court change, as society, technology, and other factors change, and as new circumstances and new laws come into play.
Interpretation of new laws in relationship to the Constitution is called judicial review. When it comes to the Bill of Rights, judicial review constantly reveals those 462 words to be a living, enduring organism that is relevant today, no matter what day today is. It causes many of us to be forever amazed by the genius of the Founding Fathers in gathering these words/ideas/ideals (particularly when they and their progeny were such jerks in keeping those sacred rights to themselves and their white male moneyed Protestant slave-owning counterparts for so damned long).
For such a book to have some lasting value to a reader and to a library collection, it must illuminate the beginnings and flow of Constitutional history in such a way that readers can understand the process and utilize that understanding as a stepping stone for future exploration as the Bill of Rights continues evolving through new justices and new Court cases.
Russell Freedman's book does just that. It shows how times change and decisions change. It provides juicy, sometimes gross examples of behavior that resulted in the promulgation of the English Common Law, the English Bill of Rights and how those rights and American colonial-period behaviors all contributed to these first ten Amendments to the US Constitution.
Freedman presents many historic decisions--later "corrected" by more-recent Justices--that (hopefully) all of us would agree in retrospect were unfair. Some early examples are a result of a Supreme Court ruling in the early 1800s that the Bill of Rights applied only to the national government. Thus (besides the slaves, the Native Americans, and the boorish treatment of women) you had other situations I wasn't aware of such as:
"In New Jersey, non-Protestants weren't granted full civil rights until 1844. In New Hampshire, Catholics couldn't vote until 1851."
But the vast proportion of the information and cases that Russell Freedman presents involve issues that are relevant and vital to today's teens. Discussion of Japanese Internment is followed by a look at the treatment and roundups of Muslim and Arab men in America following September 11th. Freedman explores many other hot-button issues such as reproductive freedom, high-tech snooping, random drug testing, the Internet, and the Death Penalty. I found his presentation of the modern issues and historic precedents surrounding the Second Amendment to be especially thought-provoking. (I'd love to see classroom discussion of that chapter coupled with a viewing of Bowling for Columbine.)
Accompanying both the historic and current issues are great tie-in photos and other illustrations. For instance, back in February we discussed with our students Bretton Barber, the Michigan kid who was kicked out of school for wearing a shirt with a printed photo of the President captioned "International Terrorist." Barber--who along with the ACLU has a lawsuit pending against the school district--invoked the Tinker v. Des Moines case from the 1960s in asserting his right to wear that shirt. Not only does this book include discussion of the Tinker case, it has a great photo of the two Tinker kids holding their black armbands emblazoned with peace symbols. (In ruling for the Tinker siblings, the Court decreed that constitutional protections "are not shed at the school house gate.")
The more sophisticated history students will consume this book quickly and be hungry for more. They will be able to dig into the extensive bibliographical sources that Freedman provides us, the majority of which have been published within the last decade. But the typical eighth-grade American History student will find this book in itself a wealth of information and a doorway to the beauty and enduring nature of our country's most precious of documents.
Perhaps this author needs to read up on some of the founding fathers. They made it the 2nd for a reason. It is the only thing that gives us the power to defend ourselves against those who seek to enslave us.
George Washington said:
"Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable ... the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference -- they deserve a place of honor with all that's good."
Samuel Adams said:
"And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; ..."
Thomas Jefferson said:
"The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that ... it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; ... "
This book is an embarrassment to Americans and would be burned by our founding fathers!
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