In the state of California, the constitution has been amended and legislation enacted that requires churches, in order to be tax- exempt, to take a loyalty oath. Presumably the taking of this oath implies a presumption that the whole membership is presumed to be guilty until the oath of innocence has been registered. It also implies that refusal to sign such an oath is subversive. But the matter of loyalty goes deeper than any oath can do. Nor does the signing of an oath prove loyalty. Churches must be free in their right to make moral and ethical judgments, even though such judgments may at times be critical of the status quo.
The churches have not all taken this matter lying down; some have paid taxes in full under protest and have gone to court to test the validity of this intrusion into religious matters by the state. Unitarians, Methodists, Quakers, and other religious bodies have taken an unequivocal stand against this invasion of religious freedom. And there have already been results. A Southern California court has ruled that the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional. In another case a court has upheld the law. In a San Leandro case involving the Methodist Church, the decision was that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Other cases are pending, and some of the suits entered will doubtless be taken to the highest state court, and if the issue is not resolved satisfactorily there, perhaps ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. A fund for religious freedom is being solicited by the Pacific Coast Unitarian Council, with a view of giving the matter a full test in the courts. This would seem to be a case requiring continual if not eternal vigilance.
Considerable concern has existed for many months over the practice of the Post Office Department arbitrarily to withhold what it terms “foreign propaganda” from distribution through the mails to the general public, though individuals in that public have personally subscribed to and paid for such materials. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the department is now delivering such so-called propaganda materials from abroad to newspapers, universities, and certain special individuals. Protests have [arisen], quite rightly it would seem, over the assumption of authority on the part of the department to make distinction between special individuals, institutions, and the general public. Once the government assumes control over the reading material of its citizens, it has taken a long step down the road to totalitarianism. In recent months the department has held back, banned, and even burned material from overseas that it broadly defines as “communist propaganda.” Last March in Boston, for example, authorities destroyed a shipment of pacifist pamphlets published in England and addressed to the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker affiliate. Well now, the Quakers have been noted for their pacifism since the days of William Penn, but this is the first time, insofar as this reporter knows, that it has been inferred that they deal in subversive literature. Even the conservative but well-known columnist George Sokolsky, who prefers what he calls “nineteenth century freedom” to what he terms “twentieth century liberalism” last spring public protested the post office’s long refusal to deliver to him periodicals from the Soviet Union which he had subscribed to and paid for. All this is a considerable departure from the conviction of Jefferson that we should have no fear of error as long as reason is free to combat it.
This being the holiday season, perhaps you listeners expect some recognition of it on just about every program these days. Well, at the risk of leaving myself open to criticism, I should like to pass along part of what one of my students had to say about our high-pressure commercialization of Christmas, especially the fact that each year, it would seem, the public is subjected to longer and more persistent pressure. Lea Lawrence, writing in the December 9 issue of the [East Tennessee] State College Collegian has this to say, in part:
“I am getting a grudge against the Christmas season, just like I’m getting a grudge against some of the other holidays, and if you want to look aghast and think you’re face-to-face with a reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, just go right ahead.… The once-pleasing carols are now revised and feature advertising jingles, and department store Santas no longer wait for junior’s lists. Instead they come calling door-to-door.… Every medium of communication is busily employed saturating the masses with “musts” for the shopping lists. No sooner than Gene Autry moans to a halt with ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ a voice crackling with enthusiasm bursts forth with the old pitch, ‘Having trouble with your shopping list? Well, here’s something the kiddies will really get a kick out of, it looks and feels like a genuine BB pistol, but shoots dum-dum bullets! And it’s yours for only…blah, blah, blah.’
While the kids turn flips in anticipation, parents have little to look forward to nowadays. The fuzzy aftermath of Christmas Eve will be met bright and early with helmeted and goggled junior spacemen skittering here and there through the house, dousing every passing object with alpha, beta and gamma rays. And topping off the entire head-splitting event will be the parade of little heads swathed in coonskin caps marching by, presenting a living reflection of an indistinct nogging complete with large hairy tongue in the form of a coon’s tail.
To attempt to perpetuate the pleasant legend of Santa Claus is a ridiculous task. Small children may not be able to count, but when they see no less than two-dozen Santas in one shopping tour, all of various sizes, shapes and vocal qualities, they figure pretty well. Two in one trip used to shake me up rather badly….
Another thing that bothers me is to awake one fine June morning to the clatter of sleigh bells as background effect to the ‘lay-away early for Christmas’ tune given by a jovial announcer who mentions at the same time that there are less than 190 shopping days until Christmas. I have a sneaking hunch that these reminders are edging back yearly. April may be the mark for next year. Christmas is all right … but it’s beginning to mess up my Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. And if the mania spreads to any of the other holidays, we may be seeing Easter bunnies in October, turkeys somewhere around May Day. I’m so used to the regular dates that it’s difficult to change.”
Ever since I read the above, I’ve tried to determine whether he was simply being facetious, or was he serious? Obviously, there is something to what he says. In looking at the loads of packages and deluge of cards in our small post office, one can hardly help but conclude that Christmas is becoming more of a time when we exchange merchandise than a time of observing in heartfelt manner its spiritual significance.
My comments on education last week caused some comment. Here is another charge and reflection that we who try to teach are much concerned about but, like in many other situations, do not know the answer or are not in a position to use it if we think we know. Two vice presidents of the American Federation of Teachers have made the charge that our public schools are neglecting the gifted students and are “educating” for mediocrity. They go on to assert that overcrowded classrooms which produce too great a teacher load, at times disinterested administrators, and poorly trained teachers are among the reasons for our catering to the mediocre.
Most teachers and administrators have long recognized that under our system such a danger exists. The easiest, sometimes about the only, thing to do under the circumstances is to pitch the level of instruction toward those of average or median ability. While at the other end of the scale the below-average student may find the pace too fast for his limited ability. As a result, both students, the brilliant and the below average, may become disinterested and discouraged.
Various solutions have been offered and attempted, from permitting brilliant students to skip grades to special classes and tutoring for the below-average students. School systems, individual schools, and individual teachers have struggled with the problem. In some schools classes are divided into sections on the basis of learning ability, thus permitting better students to advance more rapidly, maintaining a normal pace for average students, and enabling the below-average to proceed at the pace dictated by their abilities.
The problem can be solved, but not until the American public recognizes and provides the facilities required: more and better-trained teachers and more and better-equipped classrooms with a consequent reduction of the teacher load. Opportunity for an education commensurate with one’s ability is a birthright of all boys and girls, but so far there has been forthcoming no blueprint to provide such, despite the fanfare of the White House Conference on Education.