1920 March 23

Passaic, NJ, Police Disrupt Reading of New Jersey Constitution


Passaic, New Jersey, police disrupted a textile union meeting on this day while leaders of the ACLU attempted to read the New Jersey State Constitution. ACLU leader Norman Thomas read the Constitution for about 15 minutes before the police arrived and was then ordered him to stop. When he did not, the police ordered the owner of the hall to turn out the lights. They then forced the crowd outside, where the Constitution reading continued by candlelight, to disperse. Textile worker union organizer Frank Laitovick read the state Constitution in Polish while an interpreter for the police department watched closely to ensure that he did not insert any “Red doctrines” into his reading.

The incident was one of several in the early years of the ACLU, when its leaders were harassed for attempting to read the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or a state constitution to dramatize the denial of free speech. On October 12, 1920 the police in Mt. Vernon, New York, arrested an ACLU leader for attempting to read the U.S. Constitution. And on March 17, 1923 the police n Waterbury, Connecticut, blocked the reading of the Connecticut state constitution by ACLU activists. The police arrested the noted author Upton Sinclair in San Pedro, California, on May 15, 1923 when he attempted to read the Bill of Rights in support of a labor strike.

Learn more about the ACLU in the 1920s: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Read the ACLU’s first Annual Report, for 1920–1921: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015039808129;view=1up;seq=5

Learn about the ACLU today: https://www.aclu.org/

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