One basic religious aim should be the promotion of brotherhood through elimination of prejudice. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to see that people of religious profession are any freer from prejudice than those who make no such profession. An item occurring in the news this week reveals a rather unique experiment seeking reduction and elimination of prejudice. In Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, a series of eight meetings, called, appropriately enough, Thaws, T-H-A-W-S, is being held this month, sponsored by a local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Its purpose is to bring together members of different faiths to discuss varying points of view and through doing so come to understand and appreciate differences among the various groups. It was not so very long ago that Oak Park was almost 100 percent Protestant. Now it is about 55 percent Protestant, 40 percent Catholic, and 5 percent Jewish. Such changes create problems, and it is these problems the people are meeting to discuss.
Representatives of the different groups take turns leading group discussion. Last week the leader was Mrs. Anna Julian, wife of the nationally known Negro chemist, Dr. Percy Julian. Such items as the following were discussed: A Protestant reported he knew of some bias against two Catholics who had sought minor political offices. Another Protestant commented that perhaps this was because they were also Democrats. A Jewish man said the parents of a Catholic girl had ordered her not to attend a social affair at a Protestant church. A Catholic schoolteacher remarked that as she understood it, Catholics were forbidden to worship at other churches. To which a Protestant woman replied she had recently gone to Mass with Catholic friends. And thus it went. Out of such incidental attitudes and behavior, group differences and similarities are brought to light, discussed fully, and, it is hoped a better understanding of inter-religious problems emerges. Meetings are held at homes of members, and a social hour is enjoyed as well as that time devoted purely to local religious, civic, and social problems. This experiment at Oak Park may have some meaning for you and me in our communities. It is a commendable approach to the problem.
Along the same theme of greater cooperation and unity come two AP dispatches this week. One from New Haven, Connecticut, where Dean Liston Pope of the Yale Divinity School predicts that the day is surely coming when Catholic and Protestant churches will work together officially both in matters of social reform and in promoting Christian faith. He bases this prediction on the conviction that they will be brought together “by the pressures of the world, of which communism is only one of many, and by the inherent requirements of the Christian faith. Catholics and Protestants have a lot more in common than they have things that divide them. They both believe in a God revealed by Christ, that God is merciful and just, that faith is the way to the highest truth, and that every man has dignity and worth. They both believe that racial segregation is wrong, that war is wrong, that political totalitarianism is wrong.” He went on to cite many efforts by organized groups to unite all Christian faiths in a common cause – war upon evil, citing particularly the Church Peace Union, the National Religion and Labor Foundation, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
The other dispatch has a New York dateline, and quotes Dr. J.A. Aasgaard of Minneapolis, veteran Lutheran leader, commenting on efforts toward Protestant church mergers. “We can’t go it alone,” he says, “any more than nations.”
Way up off the coast of Massachusetts on the island of Martha’s Vineyard comes a reported story of a conversation between a farmer and a little girl, a story that has an important and direct meaning to each of us. The little girl said to the farmer, “They are improving on television and radios and all that such but the one thing that needs improvement, education, is not getting much.” At about the same time this conversation went on, in Washington a speaker was telling the American Council of Learned Societies the same thing in other words: “If constructive criticism of the security program is the most urgent problem in the defense of morality and the intellect, our most serious long-term problem is to reach all of our children with educational standards they will respect.” He went on to describe the situation facing many educators, a situation which all of us who try to teach know about all too well. He said, “Our overworked and underpaid teachers have become sensitive under the barrage of criticism to which they have been subjected … yet no one knows better than they how much we are in need of scholarly and constructive leadership if we are to make the progress now needed to improve the educational standards in our overcrowded public schools.”
Not only the public schools have faced this criticism; in fact, much of this criticism has been directed at higher levels of learning. In the past three years, for example, there have been two major investigations into the activities of philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie. Ministers such as Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam have been brought before congressional committees for questioning. Proposals have been made to investigate the clergy. (And I might add parenthetically, our own state legislature has had suggested to it by some doubtless well intentioned but equally doubtless uninformed individual that it pass a loyalty oath for teachers. Haven’t we already had more than enough of McCarthyism?)
Yes, there appears to be much time and money to be found to spend on improvement of roads, television, cars, and improvement of livestock handling. But at a time when schools across the nation are in dire straits, we do not have time and money to spend on children of the country. The children of Martha’s Vineyard would not be so important if they were the only ones facing inadequate schools; virtually all American children everywhere are. But when the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the president’s cabinet was asked recently by a press reporter what her department was going to recommend toward federal aid for schools, her reported reply was, “That is not on my legislative program at this time.” When will it be? The growth and development of children will not wait until she makes up her mind what to recommend, and Congress can hardly be expected to act without some encouragement from the executive branch.
One of the most precious of our rights, especially in the field of religion, is to think as we please. But it extends into fields other than religion. Americans, I take it, are, as a people, opposed to any form or anything that smacks of thought control. Yet, in a district court in Chicago, there is going on these days a case that may well be decided against freedom of thinking, without which we would have nothing but intellectual stagnation, and as a result of that, nothing but political, social, and economic decadence.
The facts are these: Claude M. Lightfoot, a Negro, is being tried under the Smith Act for two things: 1. membership in the Communist Party; and 2. knowledge of the purpose of communism, which, according to the prosecution, has only the nefarious purpose of overthrowing the government of the U.S. Mr. Lightfoot makes no denial of either of these charges. However, he (at least his counsel) insists that he has never taken part in any action directed toward conspiring to overthrow the government, and that he subscribed to Marxist-Leninism as a philosophy that would seek a political moral, and social order in which his, and all other submerged races would be given greater equality. The defense goes on to argue that under our system, communism could only come about here through the peaceful, democratic will of a majority.
This reporter is sure that he, along with virtually all other Americans, has no use for dictatorship in any form, whether it be the communist or any other variety. But that is not the point in the case at issue. Among the points that are at issue are these: How far can or must we go in this nation to restrain the communist menace? Is the internal danger from communism so great that membership alone in the Communist Party shall be punished? When in Anglo-Saxon tradition has it been possible to penalize an individual for what he thinks? Criminal acts, not thoughts, are punishable under the First Amendment, and the prosecution in its opening statement indicated that it would not attempt to show overt acts in which Mr. Lightfoot was attempting to overthrow the government. Cutting through all the legal terminology and technicalities, the issue in question is: Can Lightfoot, an admitted communist, who is not charged with any treasonable action, but who admits to subscribing in thought to a revolutionary philosophy, be punished for what he thinks? If he can, then eventually may you and I not be punished for what we think about politics, religion, civic and moral questions? Whatever the decision of the court, appeal will probably be taken to a higher one, and the final decision whatever it is, will be one we could well watch for, since it is on a subject of more than academic interest to all.