To read Part 1 of “The Obscenity of Lenny Bruce & Hugh Hefner,” click here.
Censorship From Jazz to Bunnies
Even if Chicago’s daily newspapers failed to discern the link between CDL, the Corporation Counsel and the Playboy arrest, they should have remembered that this was not the first time the city’s Catholic hierarchy had struck out at us.
In 1959 Playboy contemplated producing the world’s greatest jazz festival. The city was sponsoring a Festival of the Americas that summer, in connection with the Pan-American Games, and they invited us to stage our jazz spectacular in Soldier Field as a part of the Pan-Am event. Then, after a joint press conference announcing the event, and after Playboy had signed contracts with most of the $100,000 worth of talent scheduled to appear, city officials unexpectedly withdrew the invitation and permission to use the Field.
The official explanation given was that the jazz festival might harm the cinder track to be used for the Games. Public and press reaction ranged from incredulity to indignation. Irv Kupicinet wrote, in his Chicago Sun-Times column: “Playboy is getting a nifty run-around in trying to learn the real reason its August 8-9 dates for a jazz festival in Soldier Field have been denied. ‘Run-around’ is an apt description, or supposedly Soldier Field’s new running track is the cause of the mysterious refusal – even though Playboy had no intention of erecting stands on the track or using it in any way. The Park District refused the festival dates 'on recommendation of the Pan-American Games Committee.’ And Jack Reilly, executive director of the Pan-Am, who originally hailed Playboy for bringing the jazz festival to Our Town, countered with, 'It’s the Park District’s baby – they have complete jurisdiction over Soldier Field, not us.’”
Chicago’s American stated: “Everyone is passing the buck on Playboy magazine jazz festival for August 8-9, in advance of the Pan American games. Playboy, as its readers know, is an authority on American jazz. But it is also, as practically everybody knows, an authority on the female form.
"Along with its articles on modern music and foreign cars, Playboy features color photos of lush young ladies, wearing dazzling smiles, maybe a pair of shoes and little or nothing else. It’s that which has injected a sour note into the jazz festival plans. It’s more or less an open secret that the reason the Park District and the Pan-American Committee hedged on letting Playboy use Soldier Field was pressure from those who disapprove of the magazine’s reputation.
"James Gately, Park District president, said the matter is out of his hands and is up to the PanAmerican Committee. Victor Perlmutter, Pan-American Festival Committee president, subsidiary of the Games committee which is arranging various cultural events in connection with the Games, said: 'As far as I’m concerned, I’m in favor of the jazz festival. I think it would be a fine contribution.’”
The man behind the city officials’ sudden reversal was the Very Reverend Msgr. John M. Kelly, editor of the Catholic New World, who the American more recently quoted on the subject of obscenity. Msgr. Kelly admitted that it was he who called Playboy’s “reputation” to the attention of the Park District, the Pan-American Games Committee and the mayor. He told the American: “Playboy is not a fit sponsor for such an event. The quality of the magazine is such, in my opinion, that it should not share in the sponsorship of any part of the Pan-American Festival.”
The Sun-Times published a letter from reader Joan Gallagher who said: “The sordid efforts of both the Chicago Park District and the Pan-American Games Committee to keep the Playboy magazine Jazz Festival out of Soldier Field are among this year’s most disgusting events.
"It is unfortunate that in a city that begs for cultural events, jazz cannot find a home. The Playboy Jazz Festival promised to be one of the major cultural events in the city’s recent history. It is testimony to the spinelessness of our administrators that the festival could not be held as planned, as part of the Festival of the Americas.
"Jazz speaks well for America, but Chicago doesn’t speak well for jazz. I know that I am among the many jazz fans who hope that the festival will find a home here, despite the Park District and the PanAmerican Committee.”
The North Loop News editorialized: “The Pan-American Games scheduled for Chicago this summer deserve to be a flop if the sponsors [ignore] the principles of sportsmanship and feel free to break their solemn word at will. Regardless of the merits of their stand, which is not necessarily tenable, official of the Games told Playboy magazine that it could have the use of Soldier Field for its Jazz Festival August 7, 8 and 9. Now they are backing out. The reasons they give are vague, but it now appears that the pressure is coming from sources that object to sponsorship of the festival by Playboy magazine. This sort of pressure is dangerous, and the present indication that Pan-Am officials may bow to it is no credit to them.”
The Pan-American Games and the Festival of the Americas were a flop.
Msgr. Kelly announced that he would continue to oppose Playboy’s sponsorship of a jazz festival anywhere in the city. But we produced the events just the same – in the Chicago Stadium – and it turned out to be the most spectacular and successful jazz show ever presented anywhere in the world. All of the jazz greats were there – from the big bands of Kenton, Ellington and Basie, and the swing combos of Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, to the vocal stylings of June Christie, Chris Connor, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the Four Freshmen, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported: “Some 19,000 Chicagoans packed the Chicago Stadium to pay a thundering homage to the Great God Jazz. They came from uptown, downtown. They came in cabs, on foot, on cycles. Because of heavy traffic and a drizzling rain, they came slowly, filling the giant stadium in almost unnoticeable ripples. By the time the last clusters were seated, half-an-hour after the star-studded Playboy Jazz Festival had begun, those who had come early were already gone. And I mean gone, man, really gone! They were caught up in the wild rhythms hurled out by Count Basie’s band, which opened the four-hour concert.
"The festival, the biggest ever anywhere, was attended by jazz buffs from all over the world. There were some 200 newsmen from papers and magazines all over the United States and Europe. Photographers numbered in the 50s. The National Broadcasting Company and the Armed Forces Network taped the entire concert.
"The performance was a benefit for the Chicago Urban League. Said Dr. Nathaniel Calloway, League president: 'The turnout has exceeded our fondest expectations.’
"Perhaps Leonard Feather, noted jazz critic, best summed up the spirit of the evening when he said: 'Man, it was like being born again. I never dreamed anything this big could ever happen.’
"Added Feather: 'You know, it’s great to see Chicago, where so much great jazz came from, become the center of the birth of jazz on this scale. It’s sort of like this is where it should have happened. And I’m glad it did.’”
Nearly 70,000 attended the festival’s five performances and after it was over most of the critics and jazz buffs who made the scene agreed with Leonard Feather’s conclusion: “It was the greatest weekend in the 60-year history of jazz!”
Mort Sahl, who m.c.’d the show, noting the rain on opening night that would have dampened the affair if it had been held in the open-air Soldier Field as originally scheduled, remarked to the audience: “Well, I guess this proves which side God is on.”
Six months later, Playboy opened its first key club. And, once again, Chicago officialdom became officious. Although Chicago had had key clubs for 25 years, the week we launched the first Playboy Club, Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy announced that key clubs were illegal.
There wasn’t any law that said so, but Mr. Melaniphy made the announcement just the same. We weren’t about to try building an international key-club operation with that kind of cloud hanging over us, so we took the matter to court and won a decision stating that the Playboy Club was legal and proper. Melaniphy appealed the decision and we won again in the Court of Appeals. Three years later, we found ourselves back in court with the same Corporation Counsel – this time Melaniphy contends that the June issue of the magazine is illegal.
Chicago isn’t the only major city in the U.S. where church and state are still associated in an unholy alliance. In New York, where the only ground for divorce is adultery, and where a judge recently ruled that a child born in wedlock as the result of artificial insemination is illegitimate, Playboy has had to fight its key-club battle all over again. The SLA Liquor Scandal has been only one part of our multiple problems with New York officialdom since opening a Playboy Club in Manhattan last December. The State Liquor Authority announced, just as Melaniphy had, that the New York Playboy could not be a for members-only key club, although the pertinent laws of the state are almost identical to those in Illinois. We took the case to court a third time, and won the same point – already confirmed twice in Illinois – once again; the SLA is appealing the decision.
Even more serious, Catholic Commissioner Bernard O'Connell refused to grant the Playboy Club a cabaret license, without which the Club is unable to offer patrons any entertainment, other than background music and the Bunnies. This wasn’t a matter of official corruption, as we faced when first applying to SLA for a liquor license. Commissioner O'Connell is an honest man who is guilty only of allowing his personal religious convictions to influence his administrative decisions. O'Connell is opposed to the Playboy Club in concept, because of its association with the magazine – in the same way Melaniphy was opposed to it in Chicago (although the Playboy Clubs have proven to be the biggest convention attractions of any nightspot in either city), as Msgr. Kelly opposed the Playboy Jazz Festival and the unofficial representatives of the St. Louis Archdiocese opposed our syndicated television variety show, Playboy’s Penthouse, forcing it off the air in that city at midseason.
Commissioner O'Connell was opposed to the Playboy Club before he knew anything about it or had ever held an official hearing on granting us a cabaret license. Prior to the hearing, O'Connell called a friend – an honest member of the new State Liquor Authority – and voiced his negative feelings about Playboy and the fact that SLA was, at that point, planning on issuing a liquor license to the Club. O'Connell was especially concerned, he said, about the costuming of the Bunnies. The SLA board members laughed and said; “Don’t be an old woman, Bernie. My daughter goes to the public beach wearing less than those girls at the Playboy Club.”
The commission held his official hearing, though he did not personally attend it, and then issued a statement refusing the Playboy Club a cabaret license. The reasons he gave were: (1) that the Playboy Club was a fraud, in that it held itself out to be a key club, whereas the SLA, at that point, was insisting that it had to be open to the general public without any payment of a key fee – a matter that has since been decided in our favor in the court; (2) the Bunnies “mingled” with the customers, which was against New York law – though the only “mingling” allowed in the New York Club is the serving of food and drink and the mingling referred to in the law refers to B-girls, who sit and drink with the customers; and (3) he disapproved of the Bunnies’ costuming – although a number of waitresses in other New York clubs wear similar abbreviated costumes and the showgirls in the Latin Quarter wear a great deal less – and Bunnies have appeared, in costume, on network television, and in photographs in family newspapers and magazines all across the country.
The Playboy Clubs are, as anyone who has ever spent any time in one knows, the most closely supervised, carefully and conscientiously run nightclubs in the country. Commissioner O'Connell doesn’t know this, of course, because he has never been inside one. He doesn’t know, because he doesn’t want to know.
We appealed the commissioner’s decision to the courts and the American Civil Liberties Union entered the case as amicus curiae (friend of the court), validating the fact that more was involved here than the usual discretionary decision of an administrative official. The ACLU brief stated that O'Connell had “prejudged” and “precensored” the Playboy Club, and thus deprived us of our civil rights. Judge Arthur G. Klein decided in favor of the Playboy Club, ruling: Commissioner O'Connell “is neither a censor nor the official custodian of the public’s morals. To satisfy his personal moral code, it is not incumbent upon the petitioner to dress its female employees in middy blouses, gymnasium bloomers, turtleneck sweaters, fishermen’s boots, or ankle-length overcoats.” The court noted that the costume worn by the Bunnies was no more revealing than a bathing suit or a low-cut formal evening gown. The court said that while Mr. O'Connell might not like certain “sophisticated” cartoons and photographs displayed in the Club, it is not required to “substitute pictures of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers or of Washington Crossing the Delaware” to satisfy the commissioner’s taste.
Commissioner O'Connell reused to let the matter end there. He had the New York Corporation Counsel appeal the decision and the Court of Appeals reversed, in favor of O'Connell. And there it stands. We must now appeal the decision once again, to the highest court in New York, and the case will not be heard until the very end of the year. In the meantime, 60,000 New York members of the Playboy Club and their guests are being deprived of entertainment to which they are entitled, the stages of three of the finest showrooms in New York remain empty, a countless number of performers are deprived of the opportunity to earn a livelihood at the Manhattan Playboy, and the Club is being deprived of more than $50,000 a month in additional revenue from showroom cover charges. All of this, plus many thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs on both Playboy’s and the city’s part, because a single New York official has arbitrarily allowed his personal religious prejudices to play a part in his functioning as a license commissioner.
If Commissioner O'Connell, or Corporation Counsel Melaniphy, lived in a community in which all of the citizens they serve were, by their own choosing, Catholic, there might be some justification for such actions. As things stand, however, these officials are guilty of projecting the religious-moral convictions of their own particular church group onto the rest of a society in which each one of us is supposed to be allowed, by constitutional guarantees, to make such decisions for himself.
Two Sides of the Coin
The problems that we have discussed this month are not peculiar to Catholicism only – they are present when the followers of any faith allow their religious beliefs to override such primary considerations as the fundamental freedom of man and the right of every individual, in a free society, to practice his own personal moral standards, and to speak, read, write and otherwise communicate with his fellow man without fear of censorship or illegal reprisal.
The Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, published by the American Library Association, published the following report from a member in its May issue: “Several years ago two nice young men who said they were missionaries of the Mormon Church came to the library. They told me they had looked in the catalog and seen that there were some 50 cards under Mormons and Mormonism but there was a lack of up-to-date material. They offered us a choice from a list of books, and we selected a new pictorial history, a biography or two, and some doctrinal works. A few weeks later they came in with books…. Again an interval, after which they came to see me to say that they noted the books were now cataloged and on the shelves. Now that we had these books which told the truth about their religion, undoubtedly we would like to discard other books in the library which told lies about the Mormon Church. Other libraries they said had been glad to have this pointed out to them.
"I answered that this certainly did seem logical at first. But I asked them to consider my position: Suppose the Christian Scientists asked us to take out medical books, and then the doctors objected to the Christian Science books. Vegetarians might want the meat-cookery books taken out and then the butchers might retaliate on the fruit-and-nut people. What would we be able to say to people who came in and asked us to remove, on the grounds that they were untrue, the very books that they have given us? The young men saw the point and were very nice about it.”
Nor are we, in any sense suggesting that the problems we have been discussing this month represent a universal Roman Catholic viewpoint. The men who take the sort of undemocratic action described herein, be they Catholic clergy or laymen, are actually enemies of their Church, whatever they may think to the contrary, for they hurt the cause of Catholicism. No religious minority in America can benefit from a reputation for intolerance or dictatorialism.
Time magazine reported, in its issue of March 29, 1963: “Catholic University in Washington D.C., has a high aim – 'to search out truth scientifically, to safeguard it, and to apply it’ – qualified in practice by a timid feeling that now and then some of the truth has to be suppressed. The newest case of suppression has the school’s faculty in revolt and deeply worries many of the 239 Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S., who are C.U.’s guardians. "Barred from a student lecture series at C.U. last month were four eminent Catholic intellectuals, including two of the nation’s top Jesuit theologians, Father Gustave Weigel and John Courtney Murray; a noted Benedictine liturgical scholar, Father Godfrey Diekmann; and one of the official theologians at the Vatican Counsel, Germany’s Father Hans Kung. To Monsignor William J. McDonald, rector of Catholic University of America, giving a forum to these scholars might seem to place his school on the liberal side in debate at the Council – and he did not want the school to be on any side.
"By last week, six major faculty groups had backed resolutions calling on the C.U. administration to rethink its notions of academic freedom. 'Now all this is out in the open,’ says one faculty man 'The trustees cannot bypass the situation as it exists.’ Rector McDonald himself gave a sign that all the protest was having a telling effect. He announced the appearance at Catholic University next month of a timely guest speaker: Augustin Cardinal Bea, a towering liberal at the Vatican Council. Bea’s topic: 'Academic Research and Ecumenicism.’”
On the negative side, a pamphlet being distributed by the San Diego Catholics for Better Libraries lists some 40 authors and illustrators who “have had Communist Front affiliations and/or write against faith, morals and the American way of life,” with the suggestion that all Catholics check their own libraries against the list. The book, The Last Temptation of Christ, was removed, last spring, from the Ashland, Wisconsin, public library after a Roman Catholic priest forbade his parishioners to read it on pain of mortal sin. “Furthermore,” said the American Library Association Newsletter, “he forbade the parishioner who showed him the book to return it to the library, since it would be a mortal sin to make it available to others. 'I still have the book,’ said Father Schneider. 'I’ll have to return it to the librarian now and see that it’s burned.’”
The Catholic Messenger editorialized against the book’s suppression, however. Putting aside the fact that the book’s author, Nikos Kazantzakis, “is held in high regard as a serious writer, and that his fictionalized interpretations of religious figures (his recently published St. Francis of Assisi, for instance) have been generally accepted as unorthodox, but reverent”; putting aside also that “precious few of the people attacking the book seem to be familiar with it” – the Messenger pointed out that after the 31-member Arcadia (California) Council of Churches “voted overwhelmingly in favor of forcing the book out of the library, it was established that only three of the 31 members had read the book.
"These facts, as we say, we put aside. As revealing as they are, they do not touch the main issue at stake, and that is the freedom of the public at large to have access to literature that a minority find obnoxious.
"There are probably very few books on the shelves of the average public library that don’t irritate some group of people. If the library were to be at the mercy of every pressure group annoyed by a given book, it seems obvious that only the most harmless, least valuable books would be available through library facilities.
"Quite clearly this is not the function of a public library. It must open its shelves to books reflecting the free interplay of ideas, and if a given book irritates a given group, the group has an easy recourse: not to read the book. Why it should not be able to do, just as clearly, is to keep the rest of the public from reading it, and this is the kind of suppression that the California clergymen [and the Wisconsin priest] are trying to practice at the moment.”
On the negative side, a Catholic reader misinterpreted remarks we made in the third installment of The Playboy Philosophy, drawn from a story and comments in Newsweek and Harper’s, regarding a Post of the Catholic War Veterans in Hartford, Connecticut, that justified a censorship campaign they had undertaken by commenting favorably on a similar book-burning purge in Red China: “We have to hand it to the Communists…who have launched a nationwide campaign against pornographic trash…. Should not this example provoke a simple literary cleanup in our land where the morality of our actions is gauged by service to God and not to an atheistic state?” The reader wrote to a Catholic periodical, the Brooklyn Tablet, with the suggestion that militant action be taken against us for what he considered as a slur: “Incredible to equate Catholicism with communism? Well, Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy, in the February issue, on page 46, does just this in an attack on the Catholic War Veterans. It is worth mobilization of effort to uphold Licenses Commissioner O'Connell, who in refusing Hefner a cabaret license recently was ridiculed by some judge.”
By this reader’s logic, the present installment of this editorial series will be viewed by some as a general tirade against Catholicism, which it is not, of course. It is strenuous opposition to censorship and attempts at totalitarian control by a few within the Catholic religion (and everywhere else these same undemocratic tactics exist) and it is addressed to free men of good will of every religious affiliation – Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and those of no religious affiliation at all.
Another letter was written recently by Reverend Harold J. Drexler, assistant pastor of the Sacred Heart Church, Dubuque, Iowa, to a number of Playboy’s advertisers. The letter read: “We have been concerned with certain magazines in our neighborhood stores. We have over 1200 children of school age and like to protect them from harmful reading matter. We found the Playboy magazine in our area and the managements cooperated in their regard.
"However, we noticed your large advertisement in this magazine. We were surprised that such a reputable business firm as yours would advertise in this type of magazine. We hope that you would reconsider your policy of advertising in this type of publication. It is our judgment that you are doing your firm’s good name more harm than good by supporting a magazine that treats relations between man and woman as something of a game. Other advertisers whom we have written have acknowledged the soundness of our disapproval. May we hear from you?” A postscript referred to the June-issue arrest “on charges of publishing and circulating an obscene magazine.”
The seemingly personal correspondence was actually a form letter sent to a majority of the advertisers in a particular issue of Playboy. We’ve no notion who those advertisers might be who “acknowledged the soundness of our disapproval,” since advertising lineage, like readership, continues to climb at an astounding rate, and we are aware of no advertising cancellations related to this letter. Here, however, are letters of response from a couple of advertisers that we do know about, because they sent us copies of their replies.
A vice president of After Six Formals wrote, “We would like to point out to you that our relationship with Playboy is a business one and that our advertising in the publication does not constitute an endorsement of its editorial contents, any more than an advertisement in a Republican or Democratic newspaper constitutes a political endorsement.
"Playboy magazine is certainly not intended for children and neither are the products advertised therein. Our highest courts have repeatedly held that adults may not be deprived of reading what they want to read, simply on the grounds that the subject is not fit for children.
"We certainly do acknowledge the right that you are entitled to your viewpoint, but we feel sure that as a good American you will permit others to hold a dissenting viewpoint.”
An executive of the top advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Co., wrote; “Your letter dated August 6, addressed to our client, Prince Matchabelli, Inc., has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our thoughts concerning the selection of Playboy as one of many magazines that carry Prince Matchabelli advertising.
"As you know, Playboy is purposely edited for the young American male and clearly is not a general or family publication. Reliable studies show that Playboy has become the nation’s most popular men’s magazine in the span of a few short years and reaches several million young, urban-oriented and well-educated men each month. These men have, of their own choice, elected to purchase a magazine that would seem to be far more acceptable than [a great many other] magazines that have been on sale for decades and have never really been supported by readers or advertisers in any significant numbers. Perhaps this is true because Playboy publishes some of the finest, most thought-provoking fiction, satire, articles, cartoons, service features, art and photography appearing in the magazine world today….
"The result has been the growth of a magazine that effectively reaches a particular audience of consumers who are excellent prospects for hundreds of products…. Prince Matchabelli, incidentally this nation’s fastest growing fragrance house, needs to present its advertising story to these young men, so well-reached through Playboy magazine. They are logical prospects for our men’s fragrance products, Black Watch, and are important gift-giving purchasers for women’s fragrance products….
"I do hope that this summary of our judgment concerning the inclusion of Playboy magazine in our list of magazines for Prince Matchabelli advertising has been of interest to you. We would hope that you might select your favorite fragrance on its merits in much the same spirit as we have attempted to select our advertising media.”
And the advertising manager of American Honda Motor Co. wrote: “Thank you for your interest in our selection of advertising media. We are concerned with favorable exposure of our advertising message to American adults with an interest in and a capacity for buying our product. Playboy delivers this exposure.
"If you were surprised that such a reputable business firm as ours, which can hardly have achieved high repute in Dubuque, since we are new to the market [would advertise in Playboy], you must have been truly shocked at the appearance of such old and reputable firms as: [A list of 28 major Playboy advertisers follows.]
"At your suggestion, we have reconsidered our policy of advertising in this publication, and now view the future bravely, hoping that we will be able to continue our support of a truly adult periodical in the face of misguided efforts to reduce the intellectual level of this nation’s mass publications to that of school-age children. However, if you will furnish this office with (1) the names of other advertisers to whom you have written who 'have acknowledged the soundness’ of your disapproval and/or (2) the content of their replies, we will undertake a review of our policy once again.
"In the meantime, please note our company name, as displayed in Playboy, is 'Honda,’ not 'Hondo.’ We feel further impelled to point out that the quotation you so thoughtfully included at the bottom of your letter indicates an accusation rather than a conviction. Unlike the tribunals of the Inquisition, the courts of this country do not presume guilt prior to the trial; nor, we are hopeful, do the members of your congregation.
"Finally, I am enclosing, for your disapproval, a list of New York Stock Exchange members who advertise in Playboy and a proof of our next insertion.”
If attempts at censorship and coercion on the part of ordinary citizens are reprehensible, how much more repugnant must be such undemocratic actions on the part of men who hold some special position of power, because of their established rank in church or government. A growing number of liberal Catholics recognize this fact clearly and are most outspoken on the subject.
In an address before an audience of 6500 at Jesuit University of San Francisco last March, University of Tubingen’s Professor of Dogmatic Theology Hans Kung eschewed dogmatism and called upon the Roman Catholic Church to abolish its Index of Prohibited Books and cease its censorship of speech and press. He said the Church has committed sins against the freedom of man, and to the outsiders the Church sometimes looks more like a prison than a sanctuary of the spirit.
In June, Cardinal Cushing, in two lengthy interviews with the Reverend Walter M. Abbott, S.J., feature editor of America, the National Catholic Weekly Review, said much the same thing. The Cardinal urged the removal of the “famous promises” asked by the Catholic Church of the non-Catholic partner in a mixed marriage, as “an irritant to many, and some, it is clear from what happens, make the promises in bad faith”…with this change, “we would start those marriages off in the context of a church which opens up the possibility of many graces being given, instead of the generating of feelings of frustration, hostility, etc.” He also favored abolishing the Index of Prohibited Books and stated, that if the Vatican Council II, first summoned by Pope John XXIII, is faithful to the pastoral approach requested by the late pontiff, “there should be considerable changes in the church law.
"After all, canon law is the result of pastoral needs,” said the Cardinal. “But the needs of one time are not the needs of another. The laws of the past that were put on the books to take care of the problems of the past may not be of much help to a later generation.
"In fact, they can sometimes be a hindrance in the care of souls. That is why I think the Council can and should do something about our many problems….”
The principles at stake in censorship were set forth with admirable clarity by Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., Professor of Moral Theology at Woodstock College, Maryland, in an address on “Literature and Censorship.” He offered four rules which, as the editor of Harper’s has noted, ought to command the enthusiastic support of all Americans regardless of religious belief:
“(1) Each minority group has the right to censor for its own members, if it so chooses, the contents of the various media of communication, and to protect them by means of its own choosing, from materials considered harmful according to its standards.” (He also pointed that in the United States “all religious groups…are minority groups.”)
“(2) No minority group has the right to demand that government should impose a general censorship [on material] judged to be harmful according to the special standards held within that group.
”(3) Any minority group has the right to work toward the elevation of standards of public morality…through the use of the methods of persuasion and pacific argument.
“(4) No minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups, through the use of methods of force, coercion or violence.”
Father Murray went on to warn that methods of coercion are especially imprudent for Catholics or Catholic associations. “The chief danger,” he said, “is lest the Church itself be identified in the public mind as a power association. The identification is injurious; it turns into hate of the faith. And it has the disastrous effect of obscuring from the public view the true visage of the Church as God’s kingdom of truth and freedom, justice and love.”
He quoted Jacques Leclercq, of the Catholic University of Louvain, “who is no slight authority,” the dictum that “no government has ever succeeded in finding a balanced policy of combating unhealthy sexual propaganda without injuring legitimate freedom or provoking other equally grave or worse disorders.”
Dean Joseph O'Meara, of the Notre Dame Law School, expressed the point most forcefully like this: “Unfortunately many sincere people do not comprehend the genius of our democracy…such people would deny free speech to those with whom they are in fundamental disagreement…. They would establish a party line in America – their party line, of course. This is an alien concept, a totalitarian concept; it is not consistent with the American tradition; it is anti-democratic; it is in short, subversive and it should be recognized for what it is.”
The best evidence that an official of government can conscientiously execute his administrative duties without permitting his religious beliefs to interfere is President John F. Kennedy. He is the first Roman Catholic to ever hold the highest office in our land and whatever forebodings religious bigots had, as regards a Catholic President, they have not come to pass. His decisions, both good and bad, have been made as the Chief Executive of all these United States, and not as a member of a particular minority group.
He has publicly opposed federal aid to parochial schools, which the Catholic Church strongly favors; he has endorsed the Supreme Court decision to keep prayers and other religious exercises out of the public schools; he has taken a more positive, progressive stand on the dissemination of birth-control materials and techniques to underprivileged foreign countries, suffering the results of uncontrolled population explosion, than did his Protestant predecessor.
He offers an outstanding example of the manner in which a government official can and should keep separate his responsibilities to church and state. It is an example that many lesser public officials would do well to emulate.
On the specific matter of censorship, John F. Kennedy, then a Senator from Massachusetts, summed up the subject with these prophetic words: “The lock on the legislature, the parliament or the assembly hall, by order of the King, the Commissar or the Fhrer, has historically been followed or preceded by a lock on the door of the printer’s, the publisher’s, or the bookseller’s.”
In the June installment of The Playboy Philosophy, we quoted these all-too-prophetic words from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black: “…[The Bill of Rights] is intended to see that a man cannot be jerked by the back of the neck by any government official; he cannot have his home invaded; he cannot be picked up legally and carried away because his views are not satisfactory to the majority….” But that is precisely what happened to us that very month.
It would be a simple matter to give in to such pressures. Our business is not dependent upon the expression of these outspoken editorial views. Indeed, it has been proven that that voicing them only produces attempts at retaliation, making our life and the earning of our livelihood just a little more difficult. But this is a contest involving a principle that we cannot back away from.
We have already been offered a compromise. The maximum fine involved here is $400 - $200 on each of the two counts for “publishing and circulating” obscene material. The legal fees and cost in time, for ourself and a number of our executives, will be, of course, many times that figure. The prosecutor for the Corporation Counsel’s office asked our legal counsel: Would we settle for a plea of guilty if the fine were reduced to $100?…$50?…$10?…$5?
But we will fight for the principle – because the principle is an important one to us.
We quoted something else by Justice Black in that June issue – on obscenity: “It was the law in Rome that they could arrest people for obscenity after Augustus became Caesar. Tacitus says that then it became obscene to criticize the Emperor.”
Our case comes up at about the same time as this November issue goes on sale. We’ll apprise you of the outcome.