Happy 4th of July from Frank Sinatra & RKO Films

For July 4th the great Marc Shaiman posted the Frank Sinatra short film The House I Live In from 1945 in his Facebook feed today, and it’s a great reflection of the values which make this country REALLY great … and why millions of humans have taken the risk (myself included) to leave their home and immigrate here to make a new life.

The House I Live In is a ten-minute short film written by Albert Maltz, produced by Frank Ross and Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Frank Sinatra. Made to oppose anti-Semitism at the end of World War II, it received an Honorary Academy Award and a special Golden Globe award in 1946. In 2007, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

Marc said in his post:

On its 241st birthday, please watch this entire short film and try to remember what America used to stand for. May we all figure out what each of us can do to resist the terrible fate our country is headed for, before it becomes the last thing we’ll do.

Now, that’s a little dark for a day of hot dogs and warm beer — but Marc is spot on in that there’s some kind of impedance mismatch between the values of the country we or our somewhat immediate ancestors have *chosen* to live in, and the rhetoric and xenophobia which we seem to be suddenly surrounded by — it’s disturbing to say the least.

This short film is a really interesting bit of war-time propaganda (with some unfortunate enemy characterizations, but hey — they attacked first) and a strong reinforcement of diversity … particularly around religion (and with a not-so-subtle support for the Jewish faith). It’s a nice “what we are fighting for” piece of work, and it’s a little disconcerting that it would probably not play well in 21st century America. While still true in the Constitution and the Courts, it’s not really how our public officials talk/tweet.

It’s also striking how directly Frank draws a comparison to intolerance of others and Nazis — the direct quote is: “You must be a bunch of those Nazi werewolves I’ve been reading about…” and “Look fellas, religion makes no difference, except maybe to a Nazi or somebody who’s stupid…”

The concept of freedom of religion, which is accompanied by a diversity and varieties of religion, is fundamental to the foundation of what it means to be an American because so many of our ancestors arrived here escaping from religious persecution. And remember, freedom of religion includes freedom of *no* religion, according to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And it has been held up consistently by the courts over the years. Originally, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government, and some states continued official state religions after ratification. Massachusetts, for example, was officially Congregational until the 1830s. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the U.S. Supreme Court incorporated the Establishment Clause (i.e., made it apply against the states):

The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another . . . in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State’ . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.

In Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution prohibits states and the federal government from requiring any kind of religious test for public office. In the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994), The Court concluded that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

So, when you say grace over dinner tonight … or when you *dont* say grace over dinner tonight — remember that you are free to have the grace/non-grace of your choice because of the freedoms conferred upon us by this great country.

In the words of Frank Sinatra — “…wouldn’t we be silly if we all went around hating people because they comb their hair different from ours? Wouldn’t we be a lot of dopes?”

#sinatra #rkofilms #1stAmendment