The Charlotte News
Monday, October 21, 1940
Site Ed. Note: There have been many cases reaching the Supreme Court over the last 60 years regarding door-to-door solicitations by Jehovah's Witnesses, generally upholding the right, regardless of how carefully towns try to draft an ordinance carefully circumscribing them. The latest word is in the 8-1 decision in June, 2002 in Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. v. Village of Stratton, ___U.S. ____, holding to be a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press an ordinance which required anyone soliciting on private residential property for a "cause" first obtain a permit from the town. Only Chief Justice William Rehnquist registered a dissent. Justice John Paul Stevens stated for the majority as follows:
"The annoyance caused by an uninvited knock on the front door is the same whether or not the visitor is armed with a permit.
"With respect to the latter, it seems unlikely that the absence of a permit would preclude criminals from knocking on doors and engaging in conversations not covered by the ordinance. They might, for example, ask for directions or permission to use the telephone, or pose as surveyors or census takers. Or they might register under a false name with impunity because the ordinance contains no provision for verifying an applicant's identity or organizational credentials. Moreover, the Village did not assert an interest in crime prevention below, and there is an absence of any evidence of a special crime problem related to door-to-door solicitation in the record before us."
The specific case to which Cash refers below is Schneider v. New Jersey, (1939) 308 US 147. That case was followed by the better known Cantwell v. Connecticut, (1940) 310 US 296, where the Court reversed convictions of three Jehovah's Witnesses for inciting a breach of the peace , saying: "The essential characteristic of these liberties is, that under their shield many types of life, character, opinion and belief can develop unmolested and unobstructed. Nowhere is this shield more necessary than in our own country for a people composed of many races and of many creeds. There are limits to the exercise of these liberties. The danger in these times from the coercive activities of those who in the delusion of racial or religious conceit would incite violence and breaches of the peace in order to deprive others of their equal right to the exercise of their liberties, is emphasized by events familiar to all. These and other transgressions of those limits the states appropriately may punish. Although the contents of the record not unnaturally aroused animosity, we think that, in the absence of a statute narrowly drawn to define and punish specific conduct as constituting a clear and present danger to a substantial interest of the State, the petitioner's communication, considered in the light of the constitutional guarantees, raised no such clear and present menace to public peace and order as to render him liable to conviction of the common law offense in question."
Our own experience with such door-to-door canvassing by this group is that they are as gentle and polite a people as will ever come upon your doorstep and are really quite unthreatening. In fact, inviting them into your home for a bit to chat can be most enlightening of their point of view, whether you choose to adopt it or not. All in all, they are far more pleasant than most uninvited visitors on your property.
We tend, however, toward the view that the Garden, the coming of Emmanuel, Death, Resurrection, an Apocalypse and a Second Coming represent individual states of being through life rather than something to be expected en masse, ushered in, as the Witnesses believe, by the events of 1914 and since, as interesting as that notion is. And the reason for our belief is in part that any period of recorded history over the course of a hundred years can be seen likewise as ushering in The Apocalypse, not to mention that viewing it otherwise might lead to a mass delusion of self-fulfilling prophecy of just that. And this time, it could be one which indeed could end mankind double-quick if adhered to without admittance of countervailing viewpoints.
No doubt, many who fought and fell in the Civil War went to battle with the notion firmly in mind that it was indeed, must be, Armageddon. And for those, perhaps it was. Yet some reflection on the writing in the Bible might convince that, as with the lives recorded of the various prophets and of Christ, the decisive Battle is fought individually over "evil", agreeing that the word is defined as acts which have harmful consequence to others. For in varying degrees, that "evil" is a part of every human.
So is not this individual battle with that bit of evil within ourselves Armageddon, decisively and privately conducted quietly over the course of an entire life? And without guns or other instruments of destruction. The principle, in fact, might be applied to most every religion embracing the myth of a similarly decisive battle between good and evil. That way, airplanes aren't deliberately plowed into buildings or buses blown up to get to wherever it is they are going.
But that is just our point of view and people are free to believe whatever they wish to believe and to talk about it ad nauseum so long as done peaceably and without annoyance. And again, in our experience, Jehovah's Witnesses do that. So...
But as to preachers who pulpitize from the fundament, as we heard one the other day doing from some public access tv-studio pulpit in the South, we offer our doorstep, but not our hearth. This poor fellow with a crick in his neck, after reading a string of quotes from Bartlett's echoing the tradition in our culture of God-language, proclaimed that the Supreme Court had "re-written" the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment, secularizing the society. "No one is free today to hold religious beliefs," he wailed from his public access tv-studio pulpit. And, and... "if [the former President] had not been so inattentive to all the warnings, maybe 9-11 wouldn't have happened."
"Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son?..."
Wallace Confirms What We Suspected About Something
The village of Wallace down in Duplin County has pretty conclusively settled something. Hitherto North Carolina towns which arrested and prosecuted members of the sect called Jehovah's Witnesses have insisted that it was only by way of enforcing ordinances to keep the streets from being littered up with hand bills, etc. That seemed dubious all along and we openly suspected that what was really going on was that these towns were adopting the same dreadful intolerance which had appeared in other parts of the nation.
But yesterday Wallace went all out. Its authorities forbade, not only the distribution of literature by members of the sect; they forbade any Jehovah's Witness to so much as enter the town limits.
The excuse here is the standard one, that the Witnesses had been distributing religious literature without a permit. That in itself is no excuse at all, for the Supreme Court of United States has ruled, in the case of Hague of New Jersey, that municipalities have no right to enact and enforce any such statute. And it is manifest that in any case the punishment would have nothing to do with the offense--that no municipality has a right to forbid people to enter it because of their views.
But the dead give-away is in the explanation of the authorities that the people of the place had become so excited against the Witnesses that they feared violence if they did not bar the latter. People simply don't get that excited about illegal statutes requiring permits for this and that. They do, however, show exactly that excitement when the spirit of religious persecution seizes them.
All the Warmer Because Of Having To Be Terse
Guests of the city, and of its two newspapers, are the circulation managers of daily papers in the Carolinas and Virginia. Formal title of the proceedings is the 21st Annual Convention of the Mid-Atlantic Circulation Managers' Association.
They are welcome, of course: twice welcome. And the occasion calls for a homily on the virtues of circulation departments, perhaps leading off with that apt quotation, borrowed from the postmen, about nothing deterring these "couriers in their appointed rounds," and winding up with fulsome praise delivered at short range.
But we don't believe we'll do it. A characteristic of newspaper men is that they don't look for praise. Criticism they expect and frequently get, both inter-office and from outside, but silence they take as a sign that everything is all right.
And so all we have to do to let the visiting circulation managers know that we're glad to have them is to say nothing--nothing at all. They'll understand and immediately feel at home.
New Deal Borrows Money Faster Than State Repays It
Having always contended that it would be a good thing if more men of consequence took part in politics, The News is bound in consistency to express pleasure at Mr. Richard J. Reynolds' becoming director of the Democratic National Committee's campaign fund-raising.
It's a good thing to see Mr. Reynolds, who is a useful citizen anyhow, taking part in politics, but that doesn't prevent us from finding a great gaping hole in the argument he makes in his letter of solicitation. Now see:
While the national debt was being increased to $45,000,000,000 from $20,000,000, the individual debts of this country were being reduced by $35,000,000,000; so that the net reduction in our debts is $10,000,000,000. This much I do know: In North Carolina, the State, county and municipal debts have been reduced during the seven and a half years of Roosevelt more than $100,000,000, and nothing has been added to them.
It is perfectly true that North Carolina governments have reduced their indebtedness substantially during these seven and a half years of Roosevelt. North Carolina instinctively dislikes expensive indebtedness. Realizing about 1930 that it had got itself out on a limb, it settled down to pay its debts and look the world in the face again.
The aggregate net reduction since 1933 has been about 77 millions of dollars instead of 100, but the reduction was substantial, all right, and so Mr. Reynolds' point is a valid one in that particular.
But while the State Government of North Carolina and all its subordinate governments were painfully and tediously paying off 77 millions of dollars, the Federal Government was expending more than 700 millions in North Carolina--and borrowing for that purpose.
What it comes down to is that North Carolinians, as citizens and taxpayers of the Republic, owe probably a great deal more than they did in 1933. For every dollar they pay off as North Carolinians they now owe several dollars as Americans.
Complacency About Britain Might Lose the War Yet
One of the greatest dangers about the way things are going in Europe at present is that the American people will relapse into complacency. The British have pretty clearly won the first stage of the Battle of Britain, and invasion is now highly unlikely. And there is a quite definite tendency on the part of many people to assume that because this is so Britain is saved and the war already practically won. There is a tendency, too, to get used to the spectacle of the daily and indiscriminate bombings of London and other English towns and to cease to feel alarm and indignation about it.
The isolationists in this country are already busily lining up their forces to take advantage of these tendencies. And some of their spokesman, like General Robert E. Wood, are already beginning boldly to set up to cry that we have been stampeded by hysteria into giving Britain too much aid, and that no more should be given under any circumstances, that it really won't be needed, that England is probably going to win anyhow, and that if she doesn't we won't be in any real danger.
That the people generally will accept that does not seem likely. They are clearly on record as favoring all possible aid to Britain, and there is no evidence of general change. But it is entirely possible that they will be too much lulled and that the well-organized and determined isolationists will be able to take advantage of that to block more effective aid for the last democracy of Europe.
Let us understand it clearly: Britain is not saved yet. And whether or not she is ultimately saved depends very largely on our power to turn out equipment fast enough for her to be able to defeat attempts against her in the Mediterranean area this Winter and to encounter renewed attempts at invasion or mass terrorization next Spring.
In the end, moreover, it is not enough that Britain shall survive. Britain must win the war, or the "peace" which comes will be only a breathing space for the dictators prepared to renew their assault on civilization. Victory is impossible until Britain has the mastery of the air. She will never get it at the rate we are now furnishing her planes. About 650 month of all types are going to her. And our aircraft factories have still really to get down to business. Dorothy Thompson praised the Curtiss-Wright plant at Buffalo in her column published on this page Friday. But she nevertheless let out the fact that it is running only five days a week--apparently because it cannot get material to keep it busy for a longer period than that. Bottleneck seems to be that peace-time industries require too much of the same materials, for the manufacture of automobiles, etc.
But it is plain enough that if we mean business about aiding Britain this ought not be true. That factory should be running seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And there should be no doubt about its right to all material it could use, as against all peace-time industries. But it is not likely to come about that way if the people fall back into complacency. Indeed, it is not likely to happen until they make it clearer than they have yet done that they demand it.
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