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 Führer, 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.
In the next installment of The Playboy Philosophy, Editor-Publisher Hugh M. Hefner will discuss sexual conduct in contemporary society and how the schism between supposed beliefs and actual behavior breeds sickness for the body, mind and soul of man.