Religious tolerance has long been a part of our American tradition, in precept if not always in practice. Perhaps not too much credit should be given to us for this, for it has been a matter of expediency and even necessity as much as, perhaps more than, any inherent broad-mindedness on our part. It has been a necessity because we are of such diverse religious groupings that all have recognized that an attack on one today may presage an assault on another tomorrow, with the end result that each one fears the chain reaction of such discrimination may in the end result in its being the object.
However, there is considerable evidence that some of the worst religious bigotry with respect to public officials at least is waning. As reported here some weeks a recent Gallup poll indicated that religious affiliation with the Catholic Church, per se, would not be nearly as great a handicap as it was in 1928 when Al Smith lost several Southern states largely because of his religious conviction.
In the recent Chicago political convention, it was remarkable the way the Southern state delegates backed Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Catholic, for the vice presidency. Granted that there was more than lack of religious prejudice here – in fact there was a great deal of political prejudice against one of the other candidates – it is still encouraging to note that the climate of religious tolerance has changed so drastically in the years since 1928 that it is difficult to think back and re-create the angry atmosphere that existed then. So, little by little, we let bitter controversy yield to patient persuasion and common sense. It may not be too much to hope that in the near future we can progress from mere religious tolerance to religious respect, for most of us are not content simply to be tolerated; we want to be respected also.
Well, the two national conventions are over, choices have been made, the captains and the would-be kings depart, and both the Stock Yards and the Cow Palace can now be turned over to their usual usages. All of the hoopla that went on is part of our American tradition, though it is highly speculative whether the flowery speeches, the pointing with pride and the viewing with alarm, did much to change anyone’s mind. Each party tried to brainwash us into believing that only it could save the country from dire results. That is, of course, rankest nonsense. Both promised that campaigning this year would stick to the high road; that smears, gutter tactics would not be used. It will be interesting to watch how, or whether, either or both keep this pledge. It is more than a good guess that as the campaign waxes hotter, deterioration of its level will set in.
As to platforms, there is little difference in the two as to semantics. Both are phrased, as usual, in such a way that most of them can be logically interpreted in almost any way. Hence, they can mean everything or nothing, depending upon your own interpretation. All this, of course, leaves us about where we started, except that four men are offering themselves for the two highest offices in the land. Your and my job as voters is to study carefully the performance of all four; to weigh what they say with how they have performed in the past. Pretty speeches that sound good mean little unless they square with what has gone before, or we have good reason to believe the speakers will live up to what they are saying. Here is your and my job cut out for us, to inform ourselves, think, listen, watch, and do our best, both mentally and physically to bring about the election of the persons whom we are convinced will honestly carry into practice the principles and values which we as voters hold. Upon how well we do that depends the future of our democratic system. Only we can fail now.
An item that is hardly news, in the sense of recency, but which merits thoughtful attention because it strikes at the very root of our system of things, is the attack upon the Chief Justice of the United States by at least two malcontents who disagreed with a Supreme Court decision that held it was not the intent of Congress to make government employees in non-sensitive positions subject to summary dismissal because of security reasons.
In the first place, Warren did not write the decision; Justice Harlan did. In the second place, Congress could, should it choose, amend the law to apply security provisions to non-sensitive positions. But facts have little effect on people whose minds are already made up and who cannot brook any opinion or decision with which they disagree. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, a Republican, said that he did not accuse Chief Justice Warren of being a communist, “but there is something radically wrong with him. In the communist book, Earl Warren is a hero.”
Not to be outdone by his Republican colleague, Democrat – not democratic – Senator Eastland said, “I’m not accusing him of being a Party member, but he takes the same position they do when he says the Communist Party is just another political party.” Again, Mr. Warren did not say this last. Probably no other American understands better than Warren the conspiratorial nature of the Communist Party and its threat to democracy.
But look at the two statements. The Founding Fathers worked out in meticulous detail a three-branch system of government. Each is coordinate with the other two. Warren underwent careful scrutiny by the Senate before he was confirmed for his present position, and he was confirmed without a dissenting vote. Nobody who knows the facts about the many facets of his career could by the most fantastic stretch of the imagination conceive him to be anything but an American who believes implicitly and explicitly in the democratic process. Those who impugn the motives and character of any citizen without cause does violence to that process. And it is no credit to those who smear citizens by saying, “He may not be a communist but…” The mere association of one’s name with the Moscow conspirators is enough, in the eyes of the unthinking, to brand one’s loyalty and good citizenship as questionable. It is almost, if not quite, as bad as bearing false witness. Anyone who has violated the law deserves to be punished after conviction under due process; until such has been done, he has the right to be presumed innocent. And that goes for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as well as for the lowliest citizen among us.