References are frequently made on this program to the importance of the Bill of Rights as a constitutional guarantee of our democratic freedoms. An essay contest on this subject has recently been won by a 17-year-old student of Jefferson High School in Richmond, Virginia, a Miss Ann Turner. Calling her essay “What the Bill of Rights Means to Me,” Miss Turner has summed up in choice language not only what the Bill of Rights means to her, but also what it should mean to every American. She says:
“I am the ‘Bill of Rights.’ I represent America. I dwell in her churches, her courts, her newspapers. I protect her people. Long ago my way was paved, my destiny established. I hold the rights of all Americans. I am their watchword, their beliefs, their stronghold. So long as I may ring the words of freedom, I am the basis of their lives, and in me rests the law of a nation.
“A gray, towering spire juts into the sky. Chimes ring through the dusk. From all walks of life come people to this sanctuary … hymns fill the world as their voices echo the truths of peace – voices of the youth, of the aged, voices of America. I protect them in this sanctuary. Through me they may choose their religion – worship as they please. They may join their fellow man in prayer, and I pray with them, for I am the Soul of America.
“Before the hushed courtroom sits the judge, the jury. It is their job to decide the fate of a man. Their wisdom and judgment will determine his guilt or innocence. Once a man was not given this chance. Once he was thrust into the dank cells of injustice. No one would hear his plea; no one would believe him. He became an outcast of humanity. To a man such as this I have brought justice. I have given him the right of trial by jury. He may stand before the world and be heard. He will be judged in all fairness, guilty or not, and I will stand in his judgment, for I am the Justice of America.
“On the street corners, in newspaper stands, on doorsteps lies the truth of a nation. Gigantic presses work continually to publish the word of the people. There is no one who may say what is to be printed and what is not to be. No one may buy the opinion of America, may bargain with her integrity. Daily, then lines of clear black type bring to every section of this country the news of the world.
“I am a part of every published article and protector of the people’s interests. I am their thoughts, for I am the Truth of America.
“A friend stops his neighbor on the street. An uncensored conversation follows. It may be a discussion of politics, of government, of religion. They talk freely, unafraid of sudden arrest. In many countries of the world a man’s speech is not his own. He may not say what he pleases. He may be incriminated for even the slightest words against his government. Consequently he lives in constant fear. His words are locked behind barred doors and whispered only in the most secluded of places. This is not so in our land. I give to each man the right of freedom of speech, for I am the Voice of America.
“In courts, in churches, in the mouths and minds of America I dwell. My job is the protection of her people. I am their beliefs, their freedom, their future, for I am the Bill of Rights.”
These are the words that interpret the meaning of the Bill of Rights to one high school student. We may well wish, even pray, that it means or comes to mean the same to all young Americans, for it is this insistence upon worth and dignity of the individual, even you and I, that makes our way of life different from that which dictators would impose upon us. Unfortunately, not all Americans would permit these freedoms if they had their way. These are the radicals of the right who would brand as un-American those who invoke these constitutional provisions to protect themselves against arbitrary invasion of their rights by those who would impose their own particular brand of conformity. Those of us who insist that the Bill of Rights be scrupulously observed are the real conservatives, for we wish to conserve that which is best in the history of this country. The Bill of Rights has withstood attacks from little men in the past, and it will do so in the present, for the Bill of Rights goes on in the minds and hearts of the people, while the demagogues of the moment have their day and then pass into the obscurity from which they should never have emerged in the first place.
A few days ago The New York Times carried a dispatch from Guatemala which reported Vice President Nixon, who is currently touring Latin America, as saying that the Catholic Church is “one of the major bulwarks against communism and totalitarian ideas.”
Exception has been taken to this by Dr. John A. Mackay, president of the World Presbyterian Alliance. Speaking before this Alliance in Ottawa, Canada, Dr. Mackay charges, “Two decades ago the Roman Catholic Church made concordats with the totalitarian rulers of Italy and Germany, Mussolini and Hitler. Today, the church has a concordat with, and is the chief supporter of, Franco, the totalitarian ruler of Spain and the most hated man in Spanish history.
“It is also a painful fact that those Latin countries where the … Catholic Church has been the predominant religious influence have been breeding grounds for Communism. This is true of Italy and it is particularly true of lands in Latin America. The consistent antipathy which the Roman hierarchy in Latin America has shown toward democratic ideas and land reform measures in such countries for example, as Guatemala and Colombia, has had two sinister effects: On the one hand, it has promoted communism; on the other hand this attitude has exposed to being labeled as “communists” men and women in the great liberal tradition who have been stalwart promoters of spiritual freedom and social justice.”
Dr. Mackay’s facts are correct; his interpretations are his own. Certainly, these charges come from an individual whose words are due respect because of the position he holds and the perspective with which he speaks. No religion regardless of its denominational label, can retain respect for and support its tenets if its affiliations and program run counter to the universal desire of humankind to better its own living conditions, even if such betterment is achieved at the expense of vested interests with which certain church leaders may be allied.
Unfortunately, one of the subjects to which anyone trying to look at the world about us today, to view it realistically, and to interpret the probable consequences of alternative courses of action must return time and time again is the problem of war. With the news being full of descriptions of the awful potentialities of weapons of destruction, of H- and A- bomb fallout, this problem is one not only of religious concern for the welfare of humanity; it is one of survival itself. In the face of these stark possibilities, it is not only curious but alarming to see and hear the voices of isolation, speaking in terms that might been applicable a century ago, using the same false accusations that were hurled at attempts a generation ago to kill the effort to effect a world organization dedicated to prevention of war, speaking again in terms of bigotry and narrow nationalism, speaking a language that is neither true nor realistic.
One such item, typical of this faction of would-be persuaders, comes from a letter to the editor of The Christian Science Monitor from a Roger Davidson of New York. He says, “America’s strength today is being slowly dissipated, its sovereignty encroached upon and its independence subverted. Through our membership in the U.N., we are bartering our national heritage for so-called security through collective action, associations, and agencies which give claim to protecting those democratic liberties to which we have fallen heir … shall we nullify the great works of our forefathers, sacrifice our nation’s morality in the interest of compromise and concession?”
These are stirring words. The only thing wrong with them is that they are simply not true. Such writers and speakers would try to repeal the 20th century and return nostalgically to some imagined yesteryear when life was much simpler and speculation on the atom was confined to harmless laboratory experiments.
The other side of the story, the real side, is well put in another letter to the editor who quotes Henry Luce, editor and publisher of Time, Fortune, and other similar conservative and staid magazines. He cites Mr. Luce as follows: “Personally I wish that right now the U.S. would be putting herself in the forefront of the great worldwide concern for law and the rule of law. But she cannot be expected to do this unless from the advance guard we get vivid suggestions as to how this ideal can be progressively incarnated. … Let us speak no more then of hopeless roadblocks lying across the path of the future. Peace is our objective; the advancement of the rule of law is the means. We have little time to waste.”
And, I might add, we have even less time than when Mr. Luce uttered these words. 1955 is the year in which attention will be focused on a review of the U.N. charter. It is widely hoped that plans will be presented and executed for making the world organization a truly effective force for the peace by clothing it with limited but adequate authority to make and administer law binding peoples of all nations. Therein lies the road to peace and if there is no such thing as collective security, there simply is no security at all. Thoughtful, objective and informed citizens the world over will recognize this and act accordingly. Let us pray that there are enough of them to crowd out the strident raucous voices of personal self-seekers who would hide our heads in the sand and follow a course that can lead only to destruction, not only of our democratic principles but also to existence itself. It’s about time that the Knowlands, the McCarthys, the Jenners, Dirksens, Brickers, and others of that stripe awakened to the fact that the world of 1955 is not one that can be wafted away by a wand of the 1820s, and it is too dangerous today to permit ourselves the luxury of such a dream world as they are fond of assuming still exists.
This week has been marked by three observances of religion. Midweek saw the start of Lent, observed by Christians as the 40 days preceding the death and transfiguration of Christ.
On Friday of this week was the “World Day of Prayer,” sponsored by the United Church of the U.S. Back in 1887 a small group of Presbyterian women in Brooklyn gathered for a day of prayer and giving for national missions. This began the World Day of Prayer which has been named by many denominations as the first Friday in Lent. The theme this year is “Abide with me.” Prayers have been asked not only for peace, but for faith, courage, and awareness of the needs of all people everywhere.
Today marks the end of Brotherhood Week, which was dealt with in some detail on this program last Sunday.
Speaking before an American Legion meeting that is conducting a “Back to God” campaign, the president said this week that “The first and most basic expression of Americanism is a recognition of God.” With all due respect to both God and Americanism, the American people, at least a goodly portion of them, are getting rather weary of hearing people confuse religion and religious belief with a political system. As emphasized here before, one can be a good citizen without subscribing to any particular brand of religion; conversely, one could conceivably subscribe sincerely to the tenets of a religious faith without at the same time being a patriotic citizen. Following the president’s line of logic, then everyone who believes in God is an American, which is, of course, ridiculous.
At a meeting of interracial and interfaith groups in Houston, Texas, this week, the Rev. James H. Robinson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Master, one of New York’s largest Negro Presbyterian churches, warned that Africa is the next continent which the communists will attempt to propagandize. He said, after having spent last summer traveling in Africa that “The communists are making real headway. We are going to spend millions of dollars in Africa ten years from now to attempt to stop something we could stop now with kindness and faith.”
To which this reporter would like to add a fervent “Amen,” for Africa has yet to learn something which we seem to be only now beginning to learn, namely, that people cannot and will not remain indefinitely submerged simply because of race alone, for all men are brothers in the sight of God, and the sooner we accept that in practice as well as principle, the sooner our upheavals will end over our somewhat vain and egotistical attempts to bolster our own egos by trying to pose as a superior people because of race alone.