Two items this week were pointed up that certainly have moral implications, even if not strictly religious ones.
All of us are doubtless familiar with the revelations brought out by the Harris Committee Investigating shenanigans in the Federal Communications Commission. You will recall that Mr. Mack was forced off the commission because it was alleged that he accepted money from a lobbyist seeking that agency’s approval of a TV channel in Miami for an airlines company. Reportorial gossip had it that he was virtually told by the White House to get out or be asked to resign, and that while he was trying to explain his innocence, Sherman Adams hung up on him. The next day, his resignation was on the president’s desk and was promptly accepted. Rumor had it still further that the White House wanted Mack to resign in order to shunt aside too much probing by the committee into activities the presidential staff may have engaged in in lobbying for friends of theirs with the various agencies. Be all that as it may, or many not, we saw the spectacle this week of one R.G. Hyde, a veteran of 30 years in the business of regulating radio and television, coming before the committee and admitting that he permitted his hotel bills to be paid by executives of radio and TV corporations while at the same time he turned in his expense account of the full $12 per diem allowed by the government for the same hotel bills and other traveling expenses.
Mr. Hyde professed to see nothing in either accepting pay twice for such bills, or for accepting favors from individuals whose businesses he was regulating. All this aroused Frederick C. Othman, in his column for March 27 to comment as follows:
“All I can say as a taxpayer who never yet asked the boss to pay bills which didn’t exist is that we’d better change the laws.… The fact that nearly all the FCC commissioners collect double on their speech-making forays doesn’t make the situation any better. The sums involved are ticky-tacky, but neither does that affect the ethics of the operation.
“These commissioners,” Mr. Othman goes on, “are top brass in the government. They’ve got fancy offices. They receive plenty of bowing and scraping and each one of them earns $20,000 a year. They shouldn’t have to stoop to chiseling on the old expense account.
“He [Mr. Hyde] said he relied on a ruling of the comptroller general in 1954, holding that it was OK for a bureaucrat to take the $12 a day, even though he didn’t have to spend it. Now we’ve got a new comptroller and he professes to see something not quite kosher in such collections….” There is more, but the issue is covered fairly well in the excerpts I have quoted.
The public has a right to know who is using his position in public office to secure favors that may not be a violation of the letter of the law, but certainly violate any true spirit of that law. Public officials should have their expenses paid by the government, and not permit themselves to be under obligation to private concerns, especially those which they are supposed to regulate. And that goes for commissioners, members of Congress of whatever party, members of the executive department, and any other public office.
Wasn’t there a lonely Galilean who, some twenty centuries ago, commented upon how difficult it is to serve two masters at the same time? The application is as true of government officials today as it was of whomever he was talking then. The public has a right to know, but whether it will or not, remains to be seen. Until or unless it is convinced that thorough job has been done of investigating all who have been suspected of such unethical practices, the presumption will be that the whole thing is pretty much of a whitewash affair.
The other item deals with government officials also; this time, state employees. Under a United Press dateline of March 27 appeared this statement:
“State employees will be asked to make the ‘traditional’ contributions to the gubernatorial campaign of Buford Ellington, the candidate backed by Gov. Frank Clement…. Employees of the State Safety Department are being asked for contributions…. The solicitation is expected to reach all departments except those financed partly with federal funds…. Contributions from workers in those departments would violate the Hatch Act, officials said…. The usual contribution asked from state employees is 10 percent of the take-home pay for one month…. Safety Commissioner Hilton Butler said the request for contributions is ‘traditional’ and is strictly on a voluntary basis.”
That is the end of the UP dispatch, but the matter received such reception in the press and on the air that, apparently, the governor felt it necessary to make his own explanation. That explanation appeared two days later, yesterday, again under a Nashville dateline from the United Press, and I quote:
“Governor Frank Clement denied yesterday that any ‘pressure’ is being put on state employees to contribute to the campaign fund for Buford Ellington, one of six candidates for governor…. At his press conference Clement said, ‘contributions are strictly on a voluntary basis.’ He said, ‘there has been no order out and there has been no pressure.’”
This reporter has been engaged in public service at federal, state, and local levels too long not to know that such voluntary matters are rarely that. One does not have to contribute, but if he fails to make such “voluntary” contributions, he may well find the road ahead pretty rocky. Was it not the Bard of Avon who said that “methinks thou dost protest too much”? Few there be who will fail to see a moral involved here, too, law or no law.
In these days of rising prices and increasing unemployment, an anachronism within themselves, one could, if it were not such a serious matter, be more than amused at how the Republicans are, we fear, minimizing the severity of the depression, while the Democrats, equally anxious to make political capital out of a misfortune under their opponents’ administration, are, we hope, exaggerating the situation. Both sides are proposing nostrums, panaceas. Greater spending, lowering of taxes, re-creation of New Deal depression agencies, and so on ad infinitum. However, a rather curious proposal emanates from the Committee for Economic Development, an arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. It calls for a temporary, “across the board” tax cut of 20 percent if the economy in March and April drops below the February level. According to the committee, this would result in available capital for plant expansion, etc. It fails to mention that, apparently, one reason for the depression of the moment is that our plants are turning out more of certain items than the consumer can or will purchase. So it wants to go on expanding plants to turn out still more.
And to the unwary, a 20 percent tax reduction for all sounds fair, but isn’t. The need is for greater consumer purchasing power, and that comes more readily by making money available to the lower income groups. A 20 percent tax reduction would place, theoretically at least, $20 in the hands of a citizen who pays $100 in taxes, but it would place $2,000 in the hands of one who pays $10,000. Actually, if the committee wants a straight across-the-board tax cut that is both fair and which puts more money in the hands of those who need it most, i.e., the low income groups, it should recommend raising the exemption from its present $600 to, say $1,000. Both large and small taxpayer would then be given a boost of an additional $400 on which they would not have to pay an income tax. This would be getting it around to recognizing (with Burns) that “a man’s a man for a’that.” Do you suppose the committee is taking advantage of what it hopes is our inability to do simple mathematics? If so, then there might just be a moral involved there too.
A National Council of Churches Official reported in Minneapolis on the released time religious education program throughout the United States. Mrs. Alice L. Goddard, director of weekday religious education for the council spoke at a luncheon in St. Paul. She estimated that 4 million children of all faiths are released from public schools once a week to attend religious education classes. She said classes for most of the Protestant children are conducted on an interdenominational basis. The council official added that she prefers to call released time, “shared time.” This, she said, implies for the child that it is a part of his regular workweek.
Well, to paraphrase Montague, a violation by any other name is still unconstitutional. What sins, secular at least, we commit in the name of doing good! Wonder if those in charge of released time for the 4 million ever take the First Amendment seriously, or read court decision after court decision under it which rules such released, or shared, time is illegal?
Army Secretary Brucker appeared this week before 3,000 Presbyterian laymen in Chicago to defend the U.S. defense policy. He spoke before the 10th annual meeting of the National Council of Presbyterian Men. He said it is not un-Christian for America to arm herself with missiles and nuclear weapons in defense against godless Russia. But he warned against relying on armor alone. In the final analysis, he said, it is the power and grace of the whole armor of God to which we rightly and confidently entrust our future. There is more, but this is enough to indicate the line he took. Did you ever know any public figure advocating a policy who did not try to wrap that policy in mother love, the little red schoolhouse, the grand old flag, or divine approval? The truth is that God must be disgusted at the way the human race here is rushing to destruction by trying to develop ever more terrible weapons to kill more people in a shorter time. The idea that he is stepping in and taking sides is identical to the idea of the Greeks, e.g., during the Trojan War, where the gods stepped in and fought, on both sides, incidentally, and against each other. Probably, under the present scheme of things, there is nothing we can do at the moment but go ahead with a defense policy involving thermonuclear weapons, but let us keep out of our argument the idea that we are doing it with divine approval. Such is nonsense, and to some of us at least, sacrilege.
Quite of another nature is the urging of a world famous missionary educator that Americans pledge a dollar a week for five years to help save a billion persons in Africa and Asia from hunger, misery, illiteracy, and communism. Dr. Frank C. Laubach, a pioneer in literacy training has spent 45 years working in Asia and Africa and has taught millions of people to read with his training methods. He said the U.S. is taking a propaganda beating in those continents from communist technical aid experts. He said communism has, in effect, 400,000 missionaries among the people there. By contrast, not more than 400 American missionaries are working to help these people improve their farming methods and living conditions. Well, maybe not, but we still have Brucker and our missile program. After we get through with using these, there’ll be not so many who survive to teach. Anyway, Dr. Lauback’s suggestion makes sense, and few there be who would not insist that it, rather than that of Brucker, has divine approval.
Christian leaders have joined in the strongest condemnation of violence against Jewish community centers in Nashville, Tennessee, and Miami, Florida. Protestant and Catholic leaders expressed horror at the bombing of the two centers. Damage was estimated at around $36,000 at the two places. Fortunately no one was hurt in either incident. Dr. Harold E. Buell, president of the Greater Miami Council of Churches, declared the violence and apparent prejudice lying behind it damages the influence of American democracy, while the Rev. Thomas Baker, executive secretary of the Tennessee Council of Churches, asked all Nashville residents of all faiths to contribute enough money to repair the Jewish center there. More violence will follow, he warned, unless we of Nashville show by word and deed that we abhor the act and motive. Father Charles M. Williams, chancellor of Nashville Catholic Diocese, called the bombing a terrible thing. Bigotry and prejudice, he said, are to be deplored at all times.