At the time the Anti-Defamation League was founded 96 years ago anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice and bigotry were prevalent in American society and those who spread the messages of hate did so protected by the First Amendment. ADL’s founders understood with great clarity and vision that the First Amendment, a cornerstone of our democracy, protected us as well, and should be utilized for good to counter the bad.
Back then it was the Ku Klux Klan and later Father Coughlin, Henry Ford and their ilk. Today it is the Westboro Baptist Church, Holocaust deniers Bradley Smith and David Irving,
neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and those who incite against Latinos, gays and other groups they deem to be the “others.”
We know the First Amendment is not absolute -- after all you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre or to quote precisely from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."
But we also know it has great breadth.
No one knew that better than Hubert H. Humphrey, who in a long life of public service as a Mayor of Minneapolis, a distinguished Senator from Minnesota, and in tumultuous times, the Vice President of the United States and one-time candidate for the presidency.
Humphrey was also among the last of the New Deal-style lions, a champion of the downtrodden and an advocate for those who suffered from inequality and injustice. He was an advocate of the First Amendment, whose crucial clause protecting free speech served Humphrey himself so well given his abilities as an orator who was not one for the short sound-bite. But he was a voice for the voiceless and a champion of those deprived of economic or social justice.
I always look forward to presenting the annual Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. This year marks the 38th presentation of the award, established by Dwayne Andreas, President of the Andreas Foundation, as a tribute to his close friend.
ADL awards the Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize to an institution or an individual who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the preservation and advancement of the ideals embodied in our Constitution’s First Amendment which enshrines the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. ADL presents this award to enhance public awareness and understanding of these precious ideals which are fundamental to America.
For Nat Hentoff, the First Amendment is a way of life, having written about and advocated on behalf of the freedom of speech and of the press for more than half a century. His body of work is an outstanding example of what we had in mind when we created this award to recognize those who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the preservation and advancement of the First Amendment.
Nat Hentoff has made significant and lasting contributions to the protection and advancement of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. His writings regularly defend the rights of Americans to think and speak freely, as well as demonstrate how the Supreme Court and local legislative decisions affect the lives of ordinary Americans.
His syndicated column Sweet Land of Liberty, appeared in the Washington Post and newspapers around the country. He was a columnist and staff writer with The Village Voice for 51 years, from 1957 until 2008. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, the New Republic, the Atlantic and The New Yorker, where he was a staff writer for more than 25 years.
A prolific author, his books include " "The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America," "The Day They Came to Arrest the Book," "Free Speech for Me and Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other."
The numerous awards Hentoff received include the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award for his coverage of the law and criminal justice in his columns; the American Library Association’s Imroth Award for Intellectual Freedom and the National Press Foundation Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism.
Nat and ADL have a long history of working together that continues to this day. While Nat and I have not always seen eye to eye over the years on some issues, our disagreements have always been civil and respectful of each other.
We trust you will agree that this straight-shooting and outspoken journalist is a worthy addition to our roster of Humphrey Prize winners.