During World War I, civil freedoms were curtailed by the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which were used to prohibit and penalize criticism of the government and the war. Furthermore, since they were suspected of supporting the Germans, several immigrants were detained, refused a hearing, and deported.
The restrictions on freedom of speech and expression were later removed after the end of the war.
During and during World War I, the US government suppressed civil freedoms principally through two pieces of legislation: the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. These laws were used to prosecute people who criticized the war or the government in general.
The most famous example of this is probably that of Eugene Debs, a prominent union leader who ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 1912 and 1920. In 1919, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for making statements against the war. He served only one year of his sentence before being released due to poor health. He died a few months later at the age of 70.
Other examples include the work of activist Lucy Parsons, who was murdered by police in 1940; that of Japanese-American poet Wiliiam Eubank who was arrested in 1942 for no reason other than his ancestry; and that of philosopher Josiah Royce, who was held in jail for three days in 1903 because someone claimed he threatened to kill President Roosevelt.
World War I also saw the rise of terrorist groups like the German Bündnisgauleiter, or "Alliance of Districts," which conducted an anti-Semitic campaign throughout Europe. This group published newspapers, made propaganda films, and organized rallies all across Germany to spread fear of Jews among the public.
Opponents of the war were frequently imprisoned or fired. Freedom of expression and the right to protest were being eroded. During the war years, Congress passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which were criticized for infringing on civil freedoms. The laws were used by federal prosecutors to charge people with treason for speaking out against the government's involvement in the war.
World War I had a significant impact on freedom in America. Government agencies began to monitor political organizations, including groups that supported Germany before it became Nazi Germany. Anti-war activists were arrested and some were tried for treason. The government also censored publications that criticized its actions in the war; otherwise known as wartime censorship.
There are several monuments and buildings across the country that pay tribute to those who fought for America during World War I. Here are just a few: The Liberty Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; and the POW/MIA Recognition Monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1919, the Supreme Court determined a series of rulings that helped establish the limits of free speech. The Espionage Act of 1917 was established by Congress shortly after the United States entered World War I. The legislation forbade interfering with military activities or recruiting. It also included a clause that made it a crime to "willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disobedience, or resistance to any officer or person acting under the authority of this act." Violators could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and fined $10,000.
The court ruled that the First Amendment protected speech, but that does not mean that people can say anything they want without consequences. In determining how much punishment to impose on one convicted of violating the law, courts often take into account the social value of different forms of speech. For example, a conviction for making a false statement may lead only to probation if the judge believes that the damage done by allowing this form of speech to go unpunished is greater than the harm done by convicting and imprisoning the speaker.
In United States v. Schwimmer (1929), the court held that statements intended to influence votes in an election were covered by the First Amendment. However, it said that speeches made at meetings where votes were taken, or other similar activity designed to get others to support a specific candidate or position, were not protected.