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1967_06_17--090_SP-Lets_Forget_the_First_Amendment

liVITCOVC 0.4 /L. ....•••n • aer.a.L. Editorial `Let's forget the First Amendment' Sen. Joseph Tydings is right, we believe, in his warning on page 10 of this issue against the dangers of summoning a new constitutional convention. The Supreme Court was right, we believe, in ruling that election districts must reflect the number of people who live in them, that they should be or- ganized to follow the general principle of one-man, one-vote, and that the local governments' failure to do so was depriving millions of Americans of their voting rights. If any right is basic to our political system, it is the right to vote equally and to be equally represented in government. The idea of calling a constitutional convention to overrule that Supreme Court decision seems an obviously bad one; the idea of such a convention having the authority to rewrite any or all parts of the Constitution seems even worse. Until recently, the prospect of such a convention appeared so remote, and the dangers so self-evident, that we didn't even think it worth discussing. But precisely because of people like us, because of our silence or indifference, a determined collection of lobbyists, rural representatives and ultraconservatives has got a large number of state legislatures to vote for the convention, and just a few more such votes might make the convention mandatory. As Senator Tydings says, the time has come to speak out against this drift. Far from needing an overhaul, the Constitution seems more in need of understanding and support, particularly the Bill of Rights. Back in the Mc- Carthy Era, all too many people acted as though the Fifth Amendment, which was devised to protect citizens against unfair interrogation and imprisonment, were a devious trick to prevent the "exposing" of Communists. Nowadays, when the country is bitterly divided over the Vietnam war, it is the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech that is drawing the most fire. It was chilling, for instance, to read the accounts of Rep. F. Edward Hebert, a Louisiana Democrat, questioning Assistant Attorney General Fred M. Vinson Jr. about why opponents of the draft had not been put in jail. "A great deal of the Constitution is intended to protect minorities and dissenters," Vinson said. "We have been made aware of that in the past few years," Hebert said. "How can the Stokely Carmichaels and the Martin Luther Kings stand before the American people and incite violation of the law while the Justice Department stands idly by?" "No one has been prosecuted because the depart- ment felt no one has violated the law..." Vinson said. "Any law that deals with utterances must be read in the light of the First Amendment." "Let's forget the First Amendment," Hebert said. "I know this prosecution would be rescinded by the Supreme Court, but at least the effort should be made. It would show the American people that the Justice Department and Congress were trying to clean up this rat-infested area." The First Amendment will not easily be forgotten. In a mere 45 words, it states several of our most important rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It states these rights not only succinctly but unequivocally. There is no hedging or qualifying, no warning that we must pray only to respectable gods or speak only respectable thoughts or complain about the Government only in respectable ways. One of the most terrible aspects of this war, and perhaps of any war, is that it is slowly and inexorably corroding Americans' sense of who they are and what America is. It should be a proud and self-confident society, proud of its freedoms, its diversity, its energy and prosperity, confident in its own justice, and in the justice of its elected leaders. Today, more and more, it is a confused and selfdoubting society, one in which the leaders and the led mistrust each other, one in which honest differences of opinion turn into slanders and insults. To support the war is to be accused of "killing our boys"; to oppose the war is to be accused of "letting down our boys." Such charges, almost unthinkable a few years ago, now are smeared on placards and carried around by demonstrators, who are ready to attack rival demonstrators on sight—and even, as happened recently, to attack innocent bystanders. It has always been moot whether we could succeed in our proclaimed goal of "saving" Vietnam by the force of American arms. As that goal continues to elude us, as the military continues to demand more troops and the level of fighting continues to rise, there will also be an increase in the pressure to conform, to rally around the flag, and to punish all dissenters, regardless of what the Constitution may say. The test, both abroad and at home, is not only whether we can combat dictatorship but also whether we can defend freedom. 90


1967_06_17--090_SP-Lets_Forget_the_First_Amendment
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