Introducing “Documents of Freedom”

From Milton to China's Democracy Wall, Salon's new series honors the milestones of human liberty.

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Today, Salon introduces “Documents of Freedom” — a nine-week series highlighting the historic essays, speeches and court rulings that have advanced the cause of free speech and other civil liberties. Each week, Salon will focus on one such document, offering commentary by Salon writers and a digital reproduction of or link to the document itself.

The Documents of Freedom series opens with the Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in the Pentagon Papers case — a decisive blow for press freedom. The case is rightfully considered one of the most important defenses of the First Amendment in U.S. history — but, as Gary Kamiya argues in his essay, the decision is fragile: Today, with the nation locked in a never ending “war on terrorism” and national security trumping all other concerns, there is no guarantee the court would rule the same way in a similar case.

We follow that with John Milton’s majestic 1644 argument against censorship, “Areopagitica,” the first major treatise ever written on freedom of the press. Although Milton’s appeal to Parliament to allow books to be freely published went unheeded in his lifetime, it is a classic that influenced the American Bill of Rights.



Other documents in the series include the Bill of Rights, Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” the Beijing Democracy Wall poster on democracy, the court ruling that “Ulysses” was not obscene, and one of Lenny Bruce’s revolutionary routines.

Of all human rights, the right to speak freely is the most intimately connected to the most distinctively human of qualities: thinking. It is also the right that is most easily threatened — whether by tyrants or democratically elected governments. The long struggle to guarantee free speech is at once inspiring and forever incomplete. With this series, Salon honors the towering documents in the history of human freedom.

— The editors

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