Remembering Free-Speech Champion Nat Hentoff

Published by Lindsay Pollard-Post.

Journalist Nat Hentoff, who died at age 91 on Sunday, wrote prolifically on many topics—including discourses on jazz, which he adored for its “honesty and courage”; profiles of politicians, religious leaders, educators, and judges; and pieces on racial conflict, censorship, and civil liberties.

But he will probably be best remembered as a stalwart advocate of the First Amendment. He defended the right to free speech in all its forms—including the freedom to speak up for animals’ rights. In a 2006 piece for Jewish World Review, he agreed with another writer who called out the FBI for wrongfully targeting PETA and other groups that work to protect animals and the environment.

In the 1990s, he spoke out against expanding the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to criminalize certain actions by political, social, and religious groups as racketeering—even when those actions served no economic purpose. Calling the act “a terrible, terrible law,” he pointed out that it could lead to lawsuits against groups like PETA, which takes on well-funded foes such as the animal-experimentation and meat industries—and he was right. The law was used that way by a laboratory where we found evidence of wrongdoing. Thankfully, the facility didn’t prevail.

“He relished the role of provocateur,” The New York Times wrote of Hentoff, “defending the right of people to say and write whatever they wanted.”

In Hentoff’s memory, let’s exercise our right to speak up for those whose cries are often ignored: Raise your voice for animals today.

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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind