William Orville Douglas (1898-1980)

“I learned that the richness of life is found in adventure. . . . It develops self-reliance and independence. Life then teems with excitement. There is stagnation only in security.”

“Christianity has sufficient inner strength to survive and flourish on its own. It does not need state subsidies, nor state privileges, nor state prestige. The more it obtains state support the greater it curtails human freedom.”

“Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.”

“The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.”

“The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.”

“The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty.”

“The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information.”

“Common sense often makes good law.”

“We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government.”

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

“The privacy and dignity of our citizens [are] being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen — a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a [person’s] life.”

“There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is responsive to human needs. If society is to be responsive to human needs, a vast restructuring of our laws is essential.”

“The function of the prosecutor under the federal Constitution is not to tack as many skins of victims as possible against the wall. His function is to vindicate the rights of the people as expressed in the laws and give those accused of crime a fair trial.”

“The most important aspect of freedom of speech is freedom to learn. All education is a continuous dialogue – questions and answers that pursue every problem on the horizon. That is the essence of academic freedom.”

“If discrimination based on race is constitutionally permissible when those who hold the reins can come up with “compelling” reasons to justify it, then constitutional guarantees acquire an accordion like quality.”

“A people who extend civil liberties only to preferred groups start down the path either to dictatorship of the right or the left.”

“Any test that turns on what is offensive to the community’s standards is too loose, too capricious, too destructive of freedom of expression to be squared with the First Amendment. Under that test, juries can censor, suppress, and punish what they don’t like, provided the matter relates to “sexual impurity” or has a tendency “to excite lustful thoughts.” This is community censorship in one of its worst forms.”

“In the East the wilderness has no evil connotation; it is thought of as an expression of the unity and harmony of the universe.”

“The search of the young today is more specific than the ancient search for the Holy Grail. The search of the youth today is for ways and means to make the machine — and the vast bureaucracy of the corporation state and of government that runs that machine — the servant of man. . . . That is the revolution that is coming. . . . It could be a revolution in the nature of an explosive political regeneration. It depends on how wise the Establishment is. If, with its stockpile of arms, it resolves to suppress the dissenters, America will face, I fear, an awful ordeal.”

“One aspect of modern life which has gone far to stifle men is the rapid growth of tremendous corporations. Enormous spiritual sacrifices are made in the transformation of shopkeepers into employees. . . . The disappearance of free enterprise has led to a submergence of the individual in the impersonal corporation in much the same manner as he has been submerged in the state in other lands.”

“We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights – older than our political parties, older than our school system.”

“I realized that Eastern thought had somewhat more compassion for all living things. Man was a form of life that in another reincarnation might possibly be a horsefly or a bird of paradise or a deer. So a man of such faith, looking at animals, might be looking at old friends or ancestors.”

“After an American has been in a totalitarian country for several months, he is greatly relieved when he reaches home. He feels that bonds have been released and that he is free. He can speak above a whisper, and he walks relaxed and unguarded as though he were no longer being followed. After a recent trip I said to a neighbor, “It’s wonderful to be back in a nation where even a riot may be tolerated.””

“The First Amendment makes confidence in the common sense of our people and in the maturity of their judgment the great postulate of our democracy.”

“Men may believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines or beliefs.”

“The dissent we witness is a reaffirmation of faith in man; it is protest against living under rules and prejudices and attitudes that produce the extremes of wealth and poverty and that make us dedicated to the destruction of people through arms, bombs, and gases, and that prepare us to think alike and be submissive objects for the regime of the computer.”

“If the government is in jeopardy, it is not because we are unable to cope with revolutionary situations. Jeopardy means that either the leaders or the people do not realize they have all the tools required to make the revolution come true. The tools and the opportunity exist. Only the moral imagination is missing.”

“We look to the heavens for help and uplift, but it is to the earth we are chained; it is from the earth that we must find our sustenance; it is on the earth that we must find solutions to the problems that promise to destroy all life here.”

“The liberties of none are safe unless the liberties of all are protected.”

“The idea of using censors to bar thoughts of sex is dangerous. A person without sex thoughts is abnormal.”

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

“Honorable retreats are no ways inferior to brave charges, as having less fortune, more of discipline, and as much valor.”

“We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet.”

“The 5th Amendment is an old friend and a good friend. one of the great landmarks in men’s struggle to be free of tyranny, to be decent and civilized.”

“Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.”

“The dissenting opinion has continued since 1792 as a great American tradition. It is as true to the character of our democracy as of speech itself.”

“The critical point is that the Constitution places the right of silence beyond the reach of government.”

“Why cannot we work at cooperative schemes and search for the common ground binding all mankind together?”

“Acceptance by government of a dissident press is a measure of the maturity of a nation.”

“Ignorance and illiteracy are obviously not synonymous; even illiterate masses can cast their ballots with intelligence, once they are informed.”

“The right to revolt has sources deep in our history.”

“Government should be concerned with anti-social conduct, not with utterances.”

“The Free Exercise Clause protects the individual from any coercive measure that encourages him toward one faith or creed, discourages him from another, or makes it prudent or desirable for him to select one and embrace it.”

“Motion pictures are of course a different medium of expression than the public speech, the radio, the stage, the novel, or the magazine. But the First Amendment draws no distinction between the various methods of communicating ideas.”

“Mountains have a decent influence on men. I have never met along the trails of the high mountains a mean man who would cheat and steal. Certainly most men who are raised there or who work there are as wholesome as the mountains themselves. Those who explore them or foot or horseback usually are open, friendly men.”

“I can see you’ve done a lot of work, but you are off base here. If and when you get appointed to the Supreme Court you can write opinions as you choose.”

“There have always been grievances and youth has always been the agitator.”

“We know by now that if we make technology the predestined force in our lives, man will walk to the measure of its demands. We know how leveling that influence can be, how easy it is to computerize man and make him a servile thing in a vast industrial complex. . . . This means we must subject the machine — technology — to control and cease despoiling the earth and filling people with goodies merely to make money.”

“The use of violence as an instrument of persuasion is therefore inviting and seems to the discontented to be the only effective protest.”

“Violence has no constitutional sanction; and every government from the beginning has moved against it. But where grievances pile high and most of the elected spokesmen represent the Establishment, violence may be the only effective response.”

“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. . . . We find no such Constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence. . . . The First Amendment does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of church and state.”

“The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when in it invites a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

“The First Amendment commands government to have no interest in theology or ritual; it admonishes the government to be interested in allowing religious freedom to flourish — whether the result is to produce Catholics, Jews, or Protestants, or to turn the people toward the path of Buddha, or to end in a predominantly Moslem nation, or to produce in the long run atheists or agnostics. On matters of this kind, government must remain neutral. This freedom plainly includes freedom from religion with the right to believe, speak, write, publish and advocate antireligious programs.”

“It seemed to me that I had barely reached the Court when people were trying to get me off.”

“We do not sit as a super legislature to weigh the wisdom of legislation.”

“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”

“One who comes to the Court must come to adore, not to protest. That’s the new gloss on the 1st Amendment.”

“At the constitutional level where we work, 90 percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.”

“Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us?”

“I sat some minutes, lost in my thoughts of the beauty of the place.”

“When a legislature undertakes to proscribe the exercise of a citizen’s constitutional rights it acts lawlessly and the citizen can take matters into his own hands and proceed on the basis that such a law is no law at all.”

“The court is really the keeper of the conscience, and the conscience is the Constitution.”

“Every time you pick up the newspaper you read about one company merging with another company. Of course, we have laws to protect competition in the United States, but one can’t help thinking that, if the trend continues the whole country will soon be merged into one large company.”

“I’ve often thought that if our zoning boards could be put in charge of botanists, of zoologists and geologists, and people who know about the earth, we would have much more wisdom in such planning than we have when we leave it to the engineers.”

“The truth is that a vast restructuring of our society is needed if remedies are to become available to the average person. Without that restructuring the good will that holds society together will be slowly dissipated. . . . It is that sense of futility which permeates the present series of protests and dissents. Where there is a persistent sense of futility, there is violence; and that is where we are today.”

“Religious experiences which are as real as life to some may be incomprehensible to others.”

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