The News and Observer
Raleigh, N. C, Sunday Morning, May 30, 1965
'A Disgrace to North Carolina'
By Paul Green
The passage by the last legislature of House Bill 1935, which we now call the Speaker Ban Law, or in more homely and accurate parlance the Gag Law, was a grievous disservice to the cause of education and good thinking in North Carolina. And more and more of our citizens are coming to realize it. The present legislature should face up to this
thine and take steps to abolish it. But will it?
To recapitulate � the statute in question says among other things that "No college or university which receives any state funds in support thereof shall permit any person to use the facilities of such college or university for speaking purposes who, (1) is a known member of the Communist Party, (2) is known to advocate the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States or the State of North Carolina, (3) has pleaded the fifth amendment of the Constitution in refusing to answer any question with respect to subversive connections�" and so on.
This law thus would seek to protect our educational institutions from being exposed to the contamination of the devilish doctrine of communism. And I ask why? Who's really afraid of communists talking or lecturing on any campus? Let them talk. They should. We all need to hear the Marxists spiel out their spiel, need to hear them speak out their palaver of beliefs if it is that. What better way of finding the errors of Marxism, of finding what it's all about? And thus our own students can develop their own strength and belief in our democracy the more. If: in an open debate we are not able to prove our democracy against communism, then there must be a flaw in our beliefs or a weakness in our ability as debaters and logicians. Here is a good way to find out, I say. Anyone knows that the way to weaken a child is to shelter him too much. He must have exercise, he must stretch his muscles. If there is an opponent to be wrestled with here ��and there is�then bring him forward, put him in the ring with our man and let them go to it. And may the better one win. And our man is the better, could be the better if he had the chance to try his strength. Give him that chance. But more of this to follow.
Believer in Democracy
I have been an ardent believer in democracy all my life. And I expect to continue to be. The principles of living and acting upon which the government of this nation is founded seem to be basic and right. My admiration for the founding fathers is as fervent as it is unabating.
I believe in individualism, in the fair competition of talent and initiative for the prizes of life to be won. I believe in free enterprise and the philosophy of hard work and thrift and upstanding responsibility.
The totalitarian and authoritarian philosophy of government is contrary to the character and spirit of the American way of life. It shocks our nervous fibre as a nation. Ours is a doctrine and a practice of freedom. But this does not mean license of behavior and free proclivity and appetite in every form. No.
With us liberty means responsibility. Our liberty is gauged in terms of our responsibility. And our responsibility is accepted in terms of
our freedom. The one is the inalienable concomitant of the other and should always be.
The early pioneers who perished on Roanoke Island; the mothers and little children who were swallowed up by the hundreds in the merciless onrush of terror, plague and disease at old Jamestown; the persistent, the unyielding, the tenacious and tough-souled Pilgrims who fought for and held a precarious and gradually strengthening foothold on the harsh shores of New England�these and their everlasting spirit of sacrifice and endurance I believe in. And I believe likewise in the men who followed them�Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, the first noted American martyr John Rolfe, and that timeless other martyr Abraham Lincoln, and especially that frustrated tragic spokesman for our American idealism, Woodrow Wilson.
Out of their struggle and suffering came these certain principles then�freedom of religion, freedom of speech, of thought, of assembly, respect for the person and rights of others, freedom of education, of the right to search for and find the truth �the truth unhindered and unbound.
Object and Material
Now a university or college by its nature is dedicated to these principles�to the discovery and teaching of truth. In this the institution is like the thinker, the artist, the poet, the dramatist. All that exists, all things, all natural phenomena, all ideals and histories and arts and cultures and handicrafts and artisan creations and the deeds and thoughts of men�these are the object and material to be used by the inquiring mind.
To the seeker of truth no door of research is to be barred, no segment or arc of the great circle of challenge and the surrounding unknown is to be marked off as forbidden to inquiry and attack. Truth is free. The
true seeker must be free to find it
and to use it freely and to thus push back the frontiers of prejudice and fear that always wait their chance to engulf us.
The free and active mind is the one certain and sure defense against an ever-threatening barbarism. When this goes down the citadel of glory falls and the funeral pall of omnipotent death eclipses the guiding light.
Keepers of the Light
The teachers and scholars of our universities and colleges are in a special sense the keepers of this light. And as such they must have free play for their intelligence and imagination. How else can they be worthy of the calling they follow? How else can they honestly train the young minds entrusted to their care and pass on to them their principles and conclusions and axioms of fact fairly arrived at?
If totalitarian philosophy is at variance with the true doctrine of democracy, and I believe it is, whether of communism or fascism, then the means our educational institutions have to combat it�is not by fiat or decree but by a more zealous devotion to and spreading of the truth. The one way to fight bad ideas is not by passing bad laws, but by producing better ideas.
Matters of preference and taste and belief and all the vague and shadowy splendor of the mind should be and must of necessity be free. These, I repeat, cannot be controlled by statutes, decrees, personnel sheets, graphs, statistics, nor political and administrative ukases whatsoever.
The tradition of freedom of conscience and individual rights has long been established among us. It is embedded in the very heart of English liberty and the American dream, and for generations it has been.
Out of the past comes many a voice saying so, and in the air around us today we hear them speaking. Yea, let us continue to hear them speak.
Jefferson writing to his nephew at the College of William and Mary in 1787 said, "On the other hand shake off all the fears and servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."
John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher, writing in 1859, declared that the spirit of liberty "comprises first the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience in the most comprehending sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological."
And Charles W. Eliot, in his inaugural address at Harvard in 1869 said that "A university must be indigenous, it must be rich, but above all it must be free. The winnowing breeze of freedom must blow through all its chambers."
Truth's Best Test
Oliver Wendell Holmes in one of his famous judicial decisions in 1919 declared "That the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition in the market."
And in vetoing the 1919 Lusk Laws requiring licensing for schools and oaths for teachers, Governor Alfred E. Smith wrote: "The profound sanity of the American people has been demonstrated in many a crisis, and I for one do not believe that governmental dictation of what may and
may not be taught Is necessary to
achieve a continuance of patriotism of our citizenship and its loyal support of the government and its institutions."
Charles Evans Hughes, in a letter to Speaker Sweet of the New York legislature in 1920, said, "If public officers or private citizens have any evidence that any individual or group of individuals are plotting revolution and seeking by violent measures to change our government, let the evidence be laid before the proper authorities and swift action be taken for the protection of the community."
A. N. Whitehead, philosopher and mathematician, in his address on the future of Harvard said some years ago, "But the ideal of the good life, which is civilization�the ideal of a university�is the discovery, the understanding, and the exposition of the possible harmony of diverse things, involving and exciting every mode of human experience. Thus it is the peculiar function of a university to be an agent of unification."
Dean Wilbur J. C5ndei�, fa the March, 1949, issue of The Harvard Bulletin wrote: "I know of no faster way of producing communists than by making martyrs out of the handful of communists we now have. Forbidding them to speak would be not only treason to the ancient traditions of Harvard and America, it would be proof that we have something to hide, that we have lost faith in our principles and in our way of life."
And even Dwight D. Eisenhower, a military man and grown old in authoritarian methods, in his installation address as president of Columbia University, said: "Who among us can doubt the choice of future Americans, as between statism and freedom, if the truth concerning each be constantly held before their eyes? But if we, as adults, attempt to hide from the young the facts in this world
struggle, not only will we be making a futile attempt to establish an intellectual iron curtain, but we will arouse the lively suspicion that statism possesses virtues whose persuasive effect we fear."
Again and again thus have we seen strong men stand up and speak as witnesses to the democratic way of life and the freedom it brings.
Never Any Such Law
During its long history North Carolina has had no other such crippling law as the Speaker Ban to hedge in its professors and classrooms at State-supported institutions, nor felt the need for such before. The teachers naturally have been expected to be competent, decent and law-abiding men. If they did not prove so, they soon found themselves moving on.
The compelling power of ideas, of public morality and general opinion have been sufficiently controlling forces for our universities and colleges, and in fact they have given them much of their inner dynamics and motive strength during the past years. And always freedom, freedom to seek the truth and to teach the truth!
Time without number our courts themselves have ruled that man's thinking and imagination, his ideals and soul are his own�which is only confirming a precedent fact. The Revolutionary War our forefathers fought and won for us had to do with this identical question. Long ago our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution declared the same in their advocacy of freedom of faith, freedom of religion.
For generations it has been understood that laws and statutes and ordinances and affidavits and rules and regulations have no legitimacy and strength against these principles. To repeat�matters of the mind live in a realm of their own, the realm of freedom. �
Should Be Abolished
Only when thinking and faith and beliefs pass into action and behavior can they be dealt with by legal power and authoritarian control. And always through due process of law this is to be done.
The Speaker Ban Law was and is an asinine piece of legislation. It is a disgrace to North Carolina. It should be abolished, and the quicker the better. Let the legislators now assembled in Raleigh, I say, boldly and sensibly face up to this matter. Any effort to rescind the law will likely be defeated for the present by the consensus of a misinformed body of lawmakers representing a more misinformed public. But at least, such an effort however small, would mark the beginning of North Carolina's return to the noble tradition of liberalism which for 300 years she has enjoyed.
North Carolina's State House where controversial law may be reconsidered
Paul Green, a native of Harnett County and long-time resident of Chapel Hill, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (for "In Abraham's Bosom"), leading author of the outdoor historical drama (beginning with "The Lost Colony"), fiction writer, screenwriter, essayist, holder Green of the North Carolina Gold Medal, and lecturer in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina.