Putting limits on power to protect rights

Chapter 20

By JOYCE APSEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2000


The Nazis led torchlit processions through Berlin in 1933 to encourage masses of people to come together in staged rallies supporting Nazi rule and the promise of a new era under their control.

From the beginning, the Nazis used police power to silence and kill political opposition. Communists and other political leaders who opposed the Nazis were rounded up, imprisoned and sometimes killed. A list of enemies of the state included anyone who was not a true Aryan (of supposedly pure German blood).

Anti-semitism, discrimination against Jews, was part of Nazi ideology, and Jews early on were said not to be real Germans and hence the targets of increasing discrimination.

In the United States, the Bill of Rights includes the rights of free speech and expression. In order for a democracy to exist, people need to have the right to express their opinions, even when these are different from those of the party or group in power. U.S. history is filled with examples of trying to balance individual rights of expression with safeguarding government and communal rights.

From listening to jazz to reading certain books, the Nazis restricted individual rights. The Nazis made a public display of burning books they disagreed with. They went from burning books to burning people, in the name of destroying dissent to create a one-party, or totalitarian, state. Totalitarianism comes from the word total or complete, one party or group that completely dominates a state and outlaws people with different opinions.

Activities and questions for discussion

From choosing what music they may listen to and what Web sites they may access on the Internet, there is a lot of debate right now about what rights people, especially young people, have to the freedom of information, what warnings or limits should be placed on certain types of speech or expression.

Look through the St. Petersburg Times for articles on free speech, movies, music and related subjects.

Read the Bill of Rights and divide up into groups to debate the pros and cons of limiting free speech and expression.

What do you think of rating movies and other information?

Do you think newspapers should be allowed to publish anything they choose?

Research the Freedom of Information Act and discuss what types of information you think should be classified.

Dr. Joyce Apsel lectures nationally on Anne Frank, genocide and human rights. She teaches at New York University. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.

On exhibit

"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin Jr., the Sembler family and the state of Florida.

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