November 12, 2012 3:06:16 AM by
Americans of a certain age will recall the child sexual abuse hysteria that swept the nation in the 1980s and 90s, dealing mainly with day care centers and other such institutions. Starting in California with accusations that day-care workers were molesting and raping children as part of Satanic cult rituals, the hysteria led to dozens of similar prosecutions. It is a testament to the absurdity of the hysteria that almost all the accused have since been exonerated.
I worked directly on the infamous Fells Acres/Amirault and Bernard Baran cases here in Massachusetts, the latter of which involved a defendant prosecuted largely because of his homosexuality. The surviving Amiraults are now out on parole, and Baran was exonerated by the courts when tapes surfaced showing social workers planting false memories of abuse into the minds of children who attended the day care center he worked at.
Just as egregious is the case of the San Antonio Four, in which four women have languished in prison for twelve years for allegedly molesting two children. Long thought to be settled, the case has sprung back to life now that one of the accusers has recanted and one of the defendants has been released on parole. The National Center for Reason and Justice, on whose board of directors I serve, has taken up the women’s cause, helping fund the women’s defense team and paying for a polygraph attesting to their innocence.
In our latest article for Forbes.com’s “Injustice Department,” my research assistant Zachary Bloom and I examine the egregious facts of the case, and discuss the necessity of overcoming the courts’ bias towards “finality” rather than justice in cases like that of the San Antonio Four.
Continued after the jump...
October 21, 2012 11:16:58 PM by
Just last month, the Wilmington, NC, federal district court held a long-awaited and hard-fought-for evidentiary hearing in the case of Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald. In 1979 Dr. MacDonald was convicted of murdering his daughters and pregnant wife, and he has spent the last 33 years in federal prison, never wavering from his claim of innocence. Over the years, an enormous aggregation of previously unavailable (in large measure because it was suppressed) evidence has corroborated MacDonald’s account of the night of the murders: that four drugged-out intruders, three men and one woman, invaded his home, beat him unconscious, and murdered his family.
The vast trove of evidence uncovered post-conviction has emerged mainly through repeated court filings by MacDonald’s lawyers over the years, including the most recent filing of DNA evidence that convinced the notoriously conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to order a lower court to convene an evidentiary hearing to take further evidence and to then consider the full picture, including all of the accumulated evidence. Now, importantly, the evidence is bolstered by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s new book, A Wilderness of Error, which was released on September 4. The book is an impressive feat, cataloguing the decades of lies, cover-ups, false narratives and grave misfortunes and outrages that have characterized the MacDonald saga. It raises serious doubts about the fairness of MacDonald’s trial and leaves little doubt about his innocence. It is well worth a read, as is its accompanying website, which serves as an invaluable repository for the enormous amount of evidence contained within the text.
A Wilderness of Error chronicles not just a human tragedy, but a chilling case that puts front-and-center pivotal questions about the future of the writ of habeas corpus—the ancient procedural device for revisiting otherwise final convictions. Until now, MacDonald’s repeated attempts to have courts look anew at his conviction have come to naught, largely due to procedural factors that favor “finality” over truth and accuracy. In my most recent column for Forbes.com, I argue that this case should force the courts to condemn to history’s scrap heap these Byzantine obstacles to justice that keep the wrongly convicted in prison.
Those of you who know me understand how strongly I feel about this mind-bogglingly outrageous miscarriage of justice. I am thankful that Errol Morris, who has his choice of absolutely any topic on which to do a book or make a documentary movie, has chosen to write on the MacDonald case.
October 17, 2012 7:11:33 PM by
The Draconian restrictions on freedom of speech and thought throughout American higher education are an extraordinarily dangerous but under-appreciated development. This is what motivated me to co-author the book The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses in 1998 and to co-found the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) in 1999, whose board of directors I chair. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff has now taken on the urgently important task of updating the dismal (although in some ways oddly entertaining, if not hilarious) picture in his new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, now available on Amazon.
In Unlearning Liberty, Lukianoff takes readers through the life of a modern-day college student, from orientation to the end of freshman year. He describes various examples from the past 15 years of horrendous (and yet typical) violations of university students’ free speech rights: a student in Indiana punished for reading a book, a student in Georgia expelled for a pro-environment collage he posted on Facebook, students at Yale banned from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on a T shirt, and students across the country corralled into tiny “free speech zones.” Lukianoff further demonstrates how our universities’ cultures of censorship are bleeding into the larger society and stunting our ability as a nation to engage in rational discussion.
I highly recommend Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate to all those concerned with the future of liberty and open debate in America.