Exactly this sort of extralegal coercive action was suggested by Illinois' Assistant State's Attorney James R. Thompson, in a newspaper story reporting on the Playboy arrest. He suggested: "(1) Citizens report to the State's Attorney's office books and magazines suspected of being obscene. (2) Formation of community or neighborhood organizations to meet with merchants who sell objectionable material. (3) Boycotting of stores which sell obscene literature."
The effect of such action is to set up citizen-censorship groups for the specific purpose of suppressing the reading matter of their fellow citizens, rather than allowing each individual to make up his or her own mind about what to read.
In an editorial titled "The Harm Good People Do," in the October 1956 issue of Harper's Magazine, Editor John Fischer wrote: "A little band of Catholics is now conducting a shocking attack on the rights of their fellow citizens. They are engaged in an un-American activity which is as flagrant as anything the Communist party ever attempted—and which is, in fact, very similar to Communist tactics. They are harming their country, their Church, and the cause of freedom.
"Their campaign is particularly dangerous because few people realize what they are up to. It can hurt you—indeed, it already has—without your knowing it. It is spreading rapidly but quietly; and so far no effective steps have been taken to halt it.
"Even the members of this organization probably do not recognize the damage they are doing. They are well-meaning people, acting from deeply moral impulses. They are trying, in a misguided way, to cope with a real national problem, and presumably they think of themselves as patriots and servants of the Lord. Perhaps a majority of Americans, of all faiths, would sympathize with their motives—though not with their methods.
"They do not, of course, speak for all Catholics. On the contrary, they are defying the warnings of some of their Church's most respected teachers and theologians. The Catholic Church as a whole certainly cannot be blamed for their actions, any more than it could be held responsible a generation ago for the political operations of Father Coughlin.
"This group calls itself the National Organization for Decent Literature. Its headquarters are in Chicago; its director is the Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas Fitzgerald. Its main purpose is to make it impossible for anyone to buy books and other publications which it does not like. Among them are the works of some of the most distinguished authors now alive—for example, winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
"Its chief method is to put pressure on news dealers, drugstores and booksellers, to force them to remove from their stocks every item on the NODL black list. Included on the list are reprint editions of books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, George Orwell, John O'Hara, Paul Hyde Bonner, Emile Zola, Arthur Koestler and Joyce Cary. [The current list also includes Serenade by James M. Cain, Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen, From Here to Eternity by James Jones, What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg, The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, Native Son by Richard Wright and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.] In some places—notably Detroit, Peoria and the suburbs of Boston—the organization has enlisted the local police to threaten booksellers who are slow to 'cooperate.'
"This campaign of intimidation has no legal basis. The books so listed have not been banned by the mail, and in the overwhelming majority of the cases no legal charges have ever been [sustained] against them.... Its chosen weapons are boycott and literary lynching.
"For example, early last year committees of laymen from Catholic churches in the four northern counties of New Jersey—Union, Hudson, Essex and Bergen—began to call on local merchants. These teams were armed with the NODL lists. They offered 'certificates,' to be renewed each month, to those storekeepers who would agree to remove from sale all of the listed publications. To enforce their demands, they warned the merchants that their parishioners would be advised to patronize only those stores displaying a certificate.
"Contact, a bulletin published by the Sacred Heart Parish Societies of Orange, New Jersey, listed 14 merchants in its March 1955 issue. 'The following stores,' it said, 'have agreed to cooperate with the Parish Decency Committee in not displaying or selling literature disapproved by the National Organization for Decent Literature.... Please patronize these stores only. They may be identified by the certificate which is for one month only.'
"Such tactics are highly effective.... The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men in St. Louis [reported] that it had 'obtained the consent of about one third of the store owners approached in the campaign to ask merchants to submit to voluntary screening....'
"The Detroit NODL states that its list is 'not intended as a restrictive list for adults'—though it does not explain how adults could purchase the books if merchants have been persuaded not to stock them.
"But the movies of these zealous people are not the issue. The real issue is whether any private group—however well-meaning—has a right to dictate what other people may read.
"Clearly any church, or any subgroup within a church, has a right to advise its own members about their reading matter. Clearly, too, anybody has a right to try to persuade other people to read or to refrain from reading anything he sees fit. The National Organization for Decent Literature, however, goes much further. Its campaign is not aimed at Catholics alone, and it is not attempting to persuade readers to follow its views. It is compelling readers, of all faiths, to bow to its dislikes, by denying them a free choice in what they buy.
"This principle is of course unacceptable to Catholics—as it is to all Americans—if they take the trouble to think about it for a moment. How would Catholics react if, say, a group of Jewish laymen were to threaten merchants with boycott unless they banned from their shops all publications which referred to the divinity of Christ? Some religious denominations believe that gambling is immoral; most Catholics do not, and many of their parishes raise considerable sums by means of bingo games and raffles. What if some Protestant sect were to try to clean out of the stores all publications which spoke tolerantly of gambling, and to boycott every merchant who bought a raffle ticket?"
Catholic censorship is implemented at the local community level by an organization called Citizens for Decent Literature. It is a Catholic lay organization though it gains its acceptance in some communities by appearing to be a civic group with no specific religious affiliation.
The Californian reported recently on CDL censorship activity in its state: "In California, where the campaign against 'obscene' literature has taken on the aura of a respectable community project, the tide has been swung by a group called Citizens for Decent Literature, whose national chairman admitted publicly that his organization is conducting 'a religious crusade.' Nevertheless, CDL was able to induce the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin to carry on a week-long campaign against 'smut,' in which quotes from CDL were featured prominently. For example, CDL's chairman, Charles H. Keating Jr., billed as a former All-American swimming champion, was quoted at the beginning of the series in a statement that San Francisco is the 'smut capital' of the nation. What readers of the News-Call could not have known was that Keating has made this statement in every city in which his organization has carried on its 'religious crusade.'
"Actually, the CDL is only a front group for a larger organization called the National Organization for Decent Literature. The NODL uses groups like CDL and the Legion for Decency to infiltrate communities under the guise of nonsectarian activity and independence from a list of banned books published by the NODL. The reason is that NODL has been stamped as a Catholic organization that has tried to have books called unfit for Catholics to read banned for persons of all other religious denominations, too. This has resulted in widespread opposition to NODL, which has therefore been forced to use groups in communities that go by different names. These groups will deny they are connected with NODL, but they use NODL's banned-books list as they parrot NODL's philosophy.
"For example, listen to CDL's Charles Keating testifying before the House Subcommittee on Postal Operations: '...The rot they peddle...causes premarital intercourse, perversion, masturbation in boys, wantonness in girls, and weakens the morality of all it contacts.... Attention is given to sensationalists such as Kinsey, who draw sweeping conclusions from a handful of selected subjects and defraud the public by calling their meanderings a scientific study—and Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen who, finding fellow travellers in erstwhile respectable media, manage to disseminate, directly and indirectly, their absurd and dirty bleatings and pagan ideas.... It seems strange to me that we credit—I should say that our mass media credit—the unestablished generalities of a few so-called experts, but ignore the overwhelming testimony of the true experts like so many of your previously testifying witnesses, of men like Pitirim Sorokin, J. Edgar Hoover.... One might say, even the laws, the words of God himself are ignored.
"'So now you see that I claim to speak for most of our American citizens. I come by this claim as a member of Citizens for Decent Literature, having in the past four years traveled extensively giving hundreds of speeches. Through our CDL office, we receive and answer about 300 letters a month, all from indignant citizens...who want, as I do, this demoralizing traffic in filth stopped now.
"'Citizens for Decent Literature has been successful in all areas where it has been militant in the first phase of its program. There has been the usual opposition by extremists such as the persistent, illogical, comical and theatrical—but legalistically skilled—activities of certain "civil liberties" groups.... They constantly—particularly the California collections—impose censorship by threats, bullying, intimidations and smears...these elements and those foul producers and salesmen of this depravity...take these slick magazines with their emphasis on seductively posed nude females. To those who say: "But whom do they effect and how?"—I reply: Why disbelieve the countless clergymen, who, from their flocks, know these magazines cause masturbation and other immoral behavior among boys.
"'The Kronhausens and their ilk I think deliberately appeal to the mass audience by inclusions in their works of the most rank obscenities imaginable.... It seems to me that the basic contention of these people is that guilt feelings are the result of moral restrictions, and that the remedy lies in abandoning the restrictions. For example, a boy who is in the habit of masturbation would undoubtedly suffer a depression and moodiness and guilt feelings which the Kronhausens would remove, not by stopping his habit or eliminating his habit of masturbation, which is a difficult process perhaps, but by convincing the boy that if masturbate he must, then go to it, but get rid of the puritanical and inbred fanatical religious attitudes which cause him to think of this as being something sinful.
"'We get a lot of mail indicating people who have picked these (nudist) magazines up and find them filled with semen when boys masturbate on the pictures, and so forth. Nothing else could be expected.
"'In these days, speaking of masturbation, when you run into that problem, I just mention it casually and take for granted that most people think that it is a very bad thing and very dangerous to the health and moral welfare, physical and mental, of the people who have the habit. But we had a psychiatrist on the stand in Cincinnati recently for the defense, who said, sure, these magazines stimulate the average person to sexual activity, but it would be sexual activity which would have a legitimate outlet. The prosecutor said to him, "Doctor, what is a legitimate or socially acceptable outlet for an 18-year-old unmarried boy?" The doctor answered, "Masturbation." When you are met with that kind of situation, you begin to wonder.'"
When you are met with that kind of wild-eyed sexual fanaticism, on the part of the chairmen of CDL and the chief proponent of censorship in the U.S. today, you do, indeed, begin to wonder.
The Californian felt obliged to observe: "Keating's testimony is full of typical revelations of this type of mind. Premarital sexual intercourse is evil. Kinsey and other scientists are 'fellow travelers,' and purveyors of filth in disguise. Scientists like Kinsey and the Kronhausens are not the true authorities; the true authorities on sex are men like J. Edgar Hoover. Anyone who sells or reads sexy literature is a 'pagan' defying the law of God. They have the support of 'civil liberties' groups [placed in quotations to indicate contempt], and California 'collections' [as if to say, the groups of wild-living people in that state]. Masturbation is so obviously immoral that it is to be taken for granted that most people think it is immoral."