The Charlotte News
Wednesday, August 14, 1940
Site Ed. Note: Demonstrating how quickly editorials could spread around, "Bad News" received a response from the mayor of Lumberton, a small town which is about 125 miles east of Charlotte, published in the Letters to the Editor column of The News on August 17.
It was a somewhat lengthy letter, but it is interesting for some historical perspective on how local governments and state governments tried to get around Supreme Court opinions by passing local ordinances or, in the case of state legislatures, statutes which were crafted to try to reach unprotected conduct, while still ultimately having the ancillary effect of quelling free speech. Such practice still goes on, of course, and it is repugnant to democracy. Local pols who tell us things we want to hear during campaigns, get elected on that basis, and then, being caught between the rock and a hard place of hollow, dissembling campaign promises and subsequent demands by constituents for performance of those promises, push for passage of laws they have to understand, unless they are plain stupid, are unconstitutional. Ultimately, such nonsense promoted by demagogues wastes the taxpayers' money by consuming time of municipal and state lawyers, judges, and politicians needlessly and winds up costing states and municipalities substantial sums of money in ultimately losing causes, causes foreordained should anyone have bothered to read the supreme law of the land and tell their constituents not what they wanted to hear but rather the truth about it. Such laws may work for awhile to squelch those who are either without sufficient means to contest the laws or are afraid for the potential of reprisal to do so, but ultimately the laws do become contested either individually or en masse and they go again to the Supreme Court to again be struck down as unconstitutional or because their application in a given instance is unconstitutional. Such of course was the case in the 1950's and 1960's with regard to many such Jim Crow ordinances and statutes in the South.
In conjunction with the editorial, "Mask Off", appearing on October 21, 1940, we have before referenced the case to which Cash refers below out of New Jersey on the Jehovah's Witnesses. But aside from the holdings of the Supreme Court, both then and still today, are such laws banning distribution of literature in public places repugnant, even under a "common sense" norm of consideration?
The mayor of Lumberton attempted to justify application of the ordinance in the instance cited by Cash below on the basis that the man involved was "discourteous" and "insulting" and had supposedly stated he could distribute his literature wherever he wanted and the town could do nothing about it. The claimed insolence and laying down of the gauntlet seems to be what got the goat of the mayor and his gendarmes. But people have the right to be insolent, surly, even downright verbally insulting if that is their desire of the moment. Sometimes, it is a far better thing to have a verbal tongue-lashing than the alternative, especially when a local government is plainly using a locally passed unconstitutional ordinance to deny rights unconstitutionally. Having never read the ordinance in issue and not knowing the full facts of the incident in question, it is difficult to know whether the town ordinance was proper on its face or was unconstitutionally vague or overbroad or was so being applied in this instance; certainly, it sounds, from the mayor's description of matters, however, that it was.
The truth of course is that such ordinances were applied in the era before the late 1960's not just to groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses but other groups representing all kinds of political, not just religious, persuasions. Using the ordinances against a group such as the Witnesses was simply a race-neutral way of attempting to apply that which was designed primarily for other uses. We don't know of course that this was what Lumberton had in mind at the time, but as Cash would point out two months later in "Mask Off", it seemed to be a lot of trouble to which to go just to ban a relatively small and quite innocuous religious group, wherever these ordinances were so applied, North or South. But then again, it may have been what it appeared on its face to be, simple religious discrimination by folks unable or unwilling to recognize that anyone had the same rights as they even if those others and their beliefs were not represented among the accepted membership of their local clubs. The tone of the letter certainly conveys the suggestion of such discriminatory notions, though apparently unwittingly.
But, it was 1940.
The letter, along with an editor's note following it, appeared under the banner, "Lumberton Protests", and read as follows:
For the first time in my life I find myself inclined toward making answer to an editorial in a newspaper. I do this because in an editorial in your paper bearing date Aug. 14, styled "Bad News," the truth is flagrantly misrepresented. The editorial relates to the arrest of one E.D. Orville of Wilmington, who was distributing handbills and circulars in violation of a town ordinance of the Town of Lumberton.
Some few years ago, as a result of the indiscriminate distribution of handbills and circulars in the town of Lumberton, as well as on the lawns of the citizens of the town, the civic organizations of the town, including the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs as well as the Woman's Club, requested the officials of the town to pass an ordinance against the indiscriminate scattering of handbills and circulars on the streets, etc., to the end that the town and streets would be decent in appearance, particularly on Sundays. The officials, believing that conditions had developed that made this necessary, not to prevent some so-called religious sect (as indicated in your editorial) from putting out religious literature, passed such an ordinance, and since that time, with few exceptions, not only the merchants and business men of our town but in the main those who have visited our town have complied with the spirit of the ordinance. Occasionally we have found some who wanted to disregard the ordinance and have acted as if they thought they were privileged characters.
SAYS MAN TOOK INSOLENT ATTITUDE
The man referred to in your editorial was in our town on last Saturday afternoon, handing out handbills and circulars on Main Street indiscriminately, and when the police officer called his attention to the ordinance he, in a very discourteous attitude, denied the right of the town to prevent him from doing that which the ordinance said he could not do. The officer then called my office and apprised me of the situation, and he was advised that if the party did not desist in scattering his handbills and circulars contrary to the provisions of the ordinance he would have to take the consequences. At this time, I did not even know who he was, but later he came with the officer to my office, and, in a very insulting manner, stated that he would do as he pleased about scattering handbills and circulars, and the town of Lumberton could not pass any law that would prevent it. The officer was properly instructed to deal with him as with any other man who violated the laws of the town, and the indictment resulted. The chief of police advised me that he did not refuse to allow him to make bond, because after his arrest and [sic] he was taken to jail, it then went into the hands of the Solicitor of the Recorder's Court, with which the town has nothing whatever to do.
FLAG MATTER DID NOT CAUSE ARREST
So far as this man's being pulled because of his statement that he would not salute the flag, there is nothing to it. My personal opinion is that a man who refuses to salute the American flag is not as good a citizen as he may think himself to be, but I've always treated that as a matter that concerns him and not me; and if he did not feel that the American flag deserved his salute, or if on account of religious views he did not want to do so, then it became a matter for him to decide. My information is that some citizen of the town who was present after his arrest did ask him if he would salute the American flag, and that he, in very emphatic terms, said he would not.
I am assuming from the contents of your editorial that the facts were entirely misrepresented to you, and I would judge from the attitude of the defendant when in my office and after his arrest that the information given to your paper originated from some of his sect. I believe, however, that you will want to correct that part of your editorial on this subject which misrepresents the facts; and knowing of the reputation of your paper as I do, I'm sure you will do it gracefully.
--E.M. Johnson, Mayor.
(Note: Mayor Johnson's letter is cogent and convincing. From the account of the episode, written for The News, incidentally, by a capable newspaper man of Lumberton, it appeared that the arrest of the "Jehovah's Witness" came about at least in part because of the nature of the pamphlets he was distributing, not solely because he was violating the town's ordinance.
It is a fact, as the editorial in The News cited, that this religious sect has been openly persecuted in other parts of the country. The Lumberton instance looks a great deal like an outbreak of the same nature.
Mayor Johnson's assurance to the contrary carries weight. We are glad to accept and publish it. But what is not established by the Mayor's letter is whether or not the Solicitor at first refused bond because of the man's attitude about saluting the flag. Moreover, the fact remains that the Supreme Court has held that town ordinances restricting the free distribution of literature are null and void.
--Editors, The News.)
Senators Show Same Madness That Got Other Lands
One of those old platitudinous sayings which suddenly begins to have new meaning these days is, "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."
It has been true in every country which has fallen victim to Hitler. With his blueprints plainly before them, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and England all were afflicted with a strange nervelessness and blindness, a resolute refusal on the part of great numbers of people and many governmental leaders to see their danger and prepare to meet it.
And now it is working out in this country with alarming power. Senators Norris, Wheeler, Vandenberg, Taft-- all men of weight--are out to defeat conscription at any cost, to substitute "voluntary enlistment."
The arguments they use are pure nonsense. It simply is not so to say that universal military service or conscription inevitably means a dictatorship and militarism. France, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, all prove the contrary to be the fact. And voluntary enlistment has been proved over and over to be a flop. It neither can nor does get enough men or the right kind of men for war armies.
The common sense of the people in general seems to have recognized that some time ago. All the polls show that sentiment in the country has been nearly two to one for the idea that the draft was an unpleasant but necessary measure.
Moreover, it is plain that there is nothing fated about the thing. If England should stand, if the danger from Hitlerism should be averted, if the prospect of war ultimately passes, the draft can be undone at will. But with the blitzkrieg on England about to begin, to fail to prepare for the worst is to gamble criminally with the destiny of this people.
Yet these men go right on with their rhetoric.
What explains it is hard to understand. To suggest that they are traitors is foolish. All of them would undoubtedly fight for the republic if they thought it necessary. None of them is Fascist, all of them would hate the idea of the domination of this country from Berlin. But they tell us calmly that they do not fear for that, that Hitler is simply a bogeyman invented by Franklin Roosevelt to get himself re-elected. They say that in the face of the overwhelming evidence and the solemn warnings of the highest military and naval authorities!
Part of it is explained by partisanship, of course. Taft and Vandenberg hate President Roosevelt bitterly, assume automatically that anything he is even mildly for is evil. Part of it is explained by the egotism of men reluctant to admit that their isolationism is now ridiculous. Part of it is explained--as in Wheeler and Norris-- by a kind of ostrich devotion to the idea of pacifism at any cost.
But it obviously has something else in it, too--a kind of blind incapacity to grasp the idea of Adolf Hitler and his purposes, a bland assumption that such a man and such purposes are in reality impossible. It is the same smug madness which has already brought so many nations to ruin, and is the thing which has everywhere in democratic countries fought most effectively for the realization of Hitler's aims.
Mark Sullivan Explains What "Volunteering" Means
And while we are talking about the debate on conscription, it might be just as well to remember what the plan for "volunteering" actually works out to. Does anybody believe that adding 30 cents a day to the pay of the soldiers will bring in a great influx of young men?
Mark Sullivan, at least, doesn't. Mr. Sullivan, an advocate of "volunteering," faces the facts frankly and tacitly admits that "volunteers" can be got only under duress. He proposes coolly that all the unemployed be forced to "volunteer," and the young men in CCC camps, on NYA, etc., be given a "choice" of "volunteering" or being thrown back into the ranks of the unemployed, where they would be forced to "volunteer."
What it amounts to is a proposal to conscript only the unfortunate and helpless, and to do it not by the direct power of the republic but by snide indirect and hypocritical schemes.
Mr. Sullivan has spent at least twenty hours a day in the last eight years in denouncing New Deal schemes which he said bred class hatred. But now in cold blood he proposes a scheme which is guaranteed to breed more class hatred in ten minutes than a thousand New Deals could breed in a hundred years.
And a scheme which is utterly mad from the standpoint of the defense of the republic--a scheme which proposes to entrust the defense mainly to young men bitterly sullen over the feeling that they have had a raw deal and hating their country as an oppressor of the poor.
Sometimes it is hard to escape the suspicion that the opponents of the draft are a good deal more interested in venting their spleen against the New Deal and its beneficiaries than in the national defense.
A Malignant Disease Pours Over Into North Carolina
Now it is North Carolina.
From one end of the country to the other, the people of various states have been disgracing themselves by hysterical assaults on the rights, property and persons of the harmless sect called Jehovah's Witnesses. But North Carolina has so far escaped the malignant frenzy.
But at Lumberton the thing has broken out in this state also. At Lumberton one E. D. Orville, of Wilmington, member of this sect, was arrested for distributing hand bills without a license. The police chief and Solicitor Wesley C. Watts inquired if the fellow would salute the American flag. He said no, as was to be expected, since members of this sect regard flag-saluting as a form of idolatry.
Bond was refused him on that ground. Later, however, the judge of the Recorder's court released him under $100 bond after binding him to appear before a jury in that court on Aug. 23.
The whole procedure is grossly and flagrantly illegal. There is no law in North Carolina or the United States which requires this man to salute the flag, and there cannot be so long as the Bill of Rights is not overridden. And the Supreme Court of the United States has explicitly held in the case of Boss Frank Hague of Jersey City, that no city or town can illegally interfere with the distribution of hand bills, which come under the freedom of press guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
This man is being held for a non-existent crime--which is to say ultimately because the authorities at Lumberton don't like his ideas and are usurping the authority to make laws against him on their own account. That is a phenomenon a thousand times more dangerous to all that is American than a crackpot theology which makes normal patriotism an offense against heaven.
Nazi Action Makes Monkey Of Their Favorite Tale
Strangest story of the week is an Associated Press dispatch from Bucharest which has it that the Nazi German Government has asked Rumania to hold off the application of its new anti-Jewish laws.
An astounding move. Rumania got herself a Nazi Government and adopted anti-Jewish laws in a hasty effort to please Nazi Germany.
But the explanation is the most interesting part of the story. Reason for the action is that Germany has observed that Jews are so important in the economic life of Rumania that if they were "suddenly excised," it would greatly slow down the production of goods Germany vitally needs.
That is, Nazi Germany candidly admits that she has been lying when she circulated the story to the German people and to the world that Jews were always mere parasites battening on the labor of others and of no productive use themselves.
It will not save the Jews, of course. Nazi Germany will use them to put herself into a new position to destroy them--if she can. And once the war is over, if Germany is victorious the Jews will be dealt with in the same fashion they were dealt with in Nazi Germany. It keeps up the old Nazi Party spirit, you see, to have somebody to beat to death at all times.
But it is an admirable reductio ad absurdum of the whole argument.
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