Politically Correct - What has the Supreme Court stated in that regard?




"Thought control is a copyright of totalitarianism, and we have no claim to it. It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."  This statment was made by the Supreme Court of the United States, this case is worth reading again and again, regarding the phrase "politically correct", as to what the Court, stated in the case of American Communications Asso. v. Douds (1950) 339 US 382, 439, 94 L Ed 925, 965, 70 S Ct 674; As quoted in part:


OPINION  Mr. Justice Jackson, concurring and dissenting, each in part.


      It happens that the belief in overthrow of representative government by force and violence which Congress conditionally proscribes is one that I agree is erroneous.  But "if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought))not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."  Holmes, J., dissenting in United States v. Schwimmer, 279 US 644, 654, 655, 73 L ed 889, 893, 49 S Ct 448.  Moreover, in judging the power to deny a privilege to think otherwise, we cannot ignore the fact that our own Government originated in revolution and is legitimate only if overthrow by force may sometimes be justified.  That circumstances sometimes justify it is not Communist doctrine but an old American belief.<fn 11>


      The men who led the struggle forcibly to overthrow lawfully constituted British authority found moral support by asserting a natural law under which their revolution was justified, and they broadly proclaimed these beliefs in the document basic to our freedom.  Such sentiments have also been given ardent and rather extravagant [339 US 440] expression by Americans of undoubted patriotism.<fn 12>


FOOTNOTE 12 A surprising catalogue of statements could be compiled.  The following are selected from Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations, under the rubric "Revolution":  "Whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."  Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.  "The community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish government, in such manner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal."  The Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights, 1776.  "It is an observation of one of the profoundest inquirers into human affairs that a revolution of government is the strongest proof that can be given by a people of their virtue and good sense."  John Adams, Diary, 1786. "What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?  Let them take arms."  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to W. S. Smith, Nov. 13, 1787.  "An oppressed people are authorized whenever they can to rise and break their fetters."  Henry Clay, Speech in the House of Representatives, March 4, 1818.  "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better."  Abraham Lincoln, Speech in the House of Representatives, 1848.  "All men recognize the right of revolution:  that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable."  H. D. Thoreau, An Essay on Civil Disobedience, 1849.  "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.  Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it."  Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.  "Whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of a right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government; the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."  Declaration of Rights of Maryland, 1867.  "The right of revolution is an inherent one.  When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable."  U. S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, I, 1885.


      Quotations of similar statements could be multiplied indefinitely.  Of course, these quotations are out of their context and out of their times. And despite their abstract theories about revolt, it should also be noted that Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant were uncompromising in putting down any show of rebellion toward the Government they headed.


      The revolutionary origin of our own Government has inclined Americans to value revolution as a means to liberty and loosely to think that all revolutionists are liberals.  The fact is, however, that violent revolutions are rare which do more in the long run than to overthrow one tyranny to make way for another.  The cycle from revolt to reaction has taken less than a score of bloody years in the great revolutions.  The Puritan Commonwealth under Cromwell led but to the Restoration; the French by revolution escaped from the reign of Louis XVI to the dictatorship of Napoleon; the Russians overthrew the Czar and won the dictatorship of Lenin and Stalin; the Germans deposed the Kaiser and fell victims of a dictatorship by Hitler.  I am convinced that force and violence do not serve the cause of liberty as well as nonviolence.  See Fischer, Gandhi and Stalin, passim.


      But the sentiments I have quoted have strong appeal to the impetuous and are deeply imbedded in American tradition.   Most of these utterances <*pg.966>   were directed against a tyranny which left no way to change by suffrage.  It seems to me a perversion of their meaning to quote them, as the Communists often do, to sanction violent attacks upon a representative government which does afford such means.  But while I think Congress may make it a crime [339 US 441] to take one overt step to use or to incite violence or force against our Government, I do not see how in the light of our history a mere belief that one has a natural right under some circumstances to do so can subject an American citizen to prejudice any more than possession of any other erroneous belief.  Can we say that men of our time must not even think about the propositions on [339 US 442] which our own Revolution was justified?  Or may they think, provided they reach only one conclusion))and that the opposite of Mr. Jefferson's?


      While the Governments, State and Federal, have expansive powers to curtail action, and some small powers to curtail speech or writing, I think neither has any power, on any pretext, directly or indirectly to attempt foreclosure of any line of thought.  Our forefathers found the evils of free thinking more to be endured than the evils of inquest or suppression.  They gave the status of almost absolute individual rights to the outward means of expressing belief.  I cannot believe that they left open a way for legislation to embarrass or impede the mere intellectual processes by which those expressions of belief are examined and formulated.  This is not only because individual thinking presents no danger to society, but because thoughtful, bold and independent minds are essential to wise and considered self-government.


      Progress generally begins in skepticism about accepted truths. Intellectual <*pg.967> freedom means the right to re-examine much that has been long taken for granted.  A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert.  The danger that citizens will think wrongly is serious, but less dangerous than atrophy from not thinking at all.  Our Constitution relies on our electorate's complete ideological freedom to nourish independent and responsible intelligence and preserve our democracy from that submissiveness, timidity and herd-mindedness of the masses which would foster a tyranny of mediocrity.  The priceless heritage of our society is the unrestricted constitutional right of each member to think as he will. Thought control is a copyright of totalitarianism, and we have no claim to it.  It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the [339 US 443] citizen to keep the Government from falling into error.  We could justify any censorship only when the censors are better shielded against error than the censored.


      The idea that a Constitution should protect individual nonconformity is essentially American and is the last thing in the world that Communists will tolerate.  Nothing exceeds the bitterness of their demands for freedom for themselves in this country except the bitterness of their intolerance of freedom for others where they are in power.<fn 13>   An exaction of some profession of belief or nonbelief is precisely what the Communists would enact))each individual must adopt the ideas that are common to the ruling group.  Their whole philosophy is to minimize man as an individual and to increase the power of man acting in the mass.  If any single characteristic distinguishes our democracy from Communism it is our recognition of the individual as a personality rather than as a soulless part in the jigsaw puzzle that is the collectivist state.


OPINION  Mr. Justice Black, dissenting.


      We have said that "Freedom to think is absolute of its own nature; the most tyrannical government is powerless to control the inward workings of the mind."<fn 1>   But people can be, and in less democratic countries have [339 US 446] been, made to suffer for their admitted or conjectured thoughts.  Blackstone recalls that Dionysius is "recorded to have executed a subject barely for dreaming that he had killed him; which was held for a sufficient proof that he had thought thereof in his waking hours."<fn 2>   Such a result, while too barbaric to be tolerated in our nation, is not illogical if a government can tamper in the realm of thought and penalize "belief" on the ground that it might lead to illegal conduct.  Individual freedom and governmental thought-probing cannot live together.  As the Court admits even today, under the First Amendment "Beliefs are inviolate." <*pg.969> 


      Today's decision rejects that fundamental principle.  The Court admits, as it must, that the "proscriptions" of   9 (h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act rest on "beliefs and political affiliations," and that "Congress has undeniably discouraged the lawful exercise of political freedoms" which are "protected by the First Amendment."  These inescapable facts should compel a holding that   9 (h) conflicts with the First Amendment.


      Crucial to the Court's contrary holding is the premise that congressional power to regulate trade and traffic includes power to proscribe "beliefs and political affiliations."  No case cited by the Court provides the least vestige of support for thus holding that the Commerce Clause restricts the right to think.  On the contrary, the First Amendment was added after adoption of the Constitution for the express purpose of barring Congress from using previously granted powers to abridge belief or its expression.  Freedom to think is inevitably abridged when beliefs are penalized by imposition of civil disabilities.


      Since   9 (h) was passed to exclude certain beliefs from one arena of the national economy, it was quite natural [339 US 447] to utilize the test oath as a weapon.  History attests the efficacy of that instrument for inflicting penalties and disabilities on obnoxious minorities.  It was one of the major devices used against the Huguenots in France, and against "heretics" during the Spanish Inquisition.  It helped English rulers identify and outlaw Catholics, Quakers, Baptists, and Congregationalists )) groups considered dangerous for political as well as religious reasons.<fn 3>   And wherever the test oath was in vogue, spies and informers found rewards far more tempting than truth.<fn 4>   Painful awareness of the evils of  <*pg.970>  thought espionage made [339 US 448] such oaths "an abomination to the founders of this nation," Re Summers, 325 US 561, 576, dissenting opinion, 89 L ed 1795, 1804, 65 S Ct 1307.  Whether religious, political, or both, test oaths are implacable foes of free thought.  By approving their imposition, this Court has injected compromise into a field where the First Amendment forbids compromise.


      The Court assures us that today's encroachment on liberty is just a small one, that this particular statutory provision "touches only a relative handful of persons, leaving the great majority of persons of the identified affiliations and beliefs completely free from restraint."  But not the least of the virtues of the First Amendment is its protection of each member of the smallest and most unorthodox minority.  Centuries of experience testify that laws aimed at one political or religious group, however rational these laws may be in their beginnings, generate hatreds and prejudices which rapidly spread beyond control.  Too often it is fear which inspires such passions, and nothing is more reckless or contagious.  In the resulting hysteria, popular indignation tars with the same brush [339 US 449] all those who have ever been associated with any member of the group under attack or who hold a view which, though supported by revered Americans as essential to democracy, has been adopted by that group for its own purposes.


      Under such circumstances, restrictions imposed on proscribed groups are seldom static,<fn 5>  even though the rate of expansion may not move in geometric progression from discrimination to arm-band to ghetto and worse.  Thus I cannot regard the Court's holding as one which merely bars Communists from holding union office and nothing more.  For its reasoning would apply just as forcibly to statutes barring Communists and their suspected sympathizers from election to political office, mere membership in unions, and in fact from getting or holding any jobs whereby they could earn a living.


      The Court finds comfort in its assurance that we need not fear too much legislative restriction of political belief or association "while this Court sits."  That expression, while felicitous, has no validity in this particular constitutional field.  For it springs from the assumption that individual mental freedom can be constitutionally abridged whenever any majority of this Court finds a satisfactory legislative reason.  Never before has this Court held that the Government could for any reason attaint persons for their political beliefs or affiliations.  It does so today.


      Today the "political affiliation" happens to be the Communist Party: testimony of an ex-Communist that some Communist union officers had called "political [339 US 450] strikes" is held sufficient to uphold a law coercing union members not to elect any Communist as an officer.  Under this reasoning, affiliations with other political parties could be proscribed just as validly.  Of course there is no practical possibility that either major political party would turn this weapon on the other, even  <*pg.971>  though members of one party were accused of "political lockouts" a few years ago and members of the other are now charged with fostering a "welfare state" alien to our system.  But with minor parties the possibility is not wholly fanciful.  One, for instance, advocates socialism;<fn 6>  another allegedly follows the Communist "line"; still another is repeatedly charged with a desire and purpose to deprive Negroes of equal job opportunities.  Under today's opinion Congress could validly bar all members of these parties from officership in unions or industrial corporations; the only showing required would be testimony that some members in such positions had, by attempts to further their party's purposes, unjustifiably fostered industrial strife which hampered interstate commerce.


      It is indicated, although the opinion is not thus limited and is based on threats to commerce rather than to national security, that members of the Communist Party or its "affiliates" can be individually attainted without danger to others because there is some evidence that as a group they act in obedience to the commands of a foreign power.  This was the precise reason given in Sixteenth-Century England for attainting all Catholics unless they subscribed to test oaths wholly incompatible with their [339 US 451] religion.<fn 7>   Yet in the hour of crisis, an overwhelming majority of the English Catholics thus persecuted rallied loyally to defend their homeland against Spain and its Catholic troops.<fn 8>   And in our own country Jefferson and his followers were earnestly accused of subversive allegiance to France.<fn 9>   At the time, imposition of civil disability on all members of his political party must have seemed at least as desirable as does   9(h) today.  For at stake, so many believed, was the survival of a newly-founded nation, not merely a few potential interruptions of commerce by strikes "political" rather than economic in origin. [339 US 452]


      These experiences underline the wisdom of the basic constitutional precept that penalties should be imposed only for a person's own conduct, not for his beliefs or for the conduct of others with whom he may  <*pg.972>  associate.  Guilt should not be imputed solely from association or affiliation with political parties or any other organization, however much we abhor the ideas which they advocate.  Schneiderman v. United States, 320 US 118, 136-139, 87 L ed 1796, 1808-1810, 63 S Ct 1333.<fn 10>   Like anyone else, individual Communists who commit overt acts in violation of valid laws can and should be punished. But the postulate of the First Amendment is that our free institutions can be maintained without proscribing or penalizing political belief, speech, press, assembly, or party affiliation.<fn 11>   This is a far bolder philosophy [339 US 453] than despotic rulers can afford to follow.  It is the heart of the system on which our freedom depends.


      Fears of alien ideologies have frequently agitated the nation and inspired legislation aimed at suppressing advocacy of those ideologies.<fn 12>


FOOTNOTE 12 For discussion of early American models, the Alien and Sedition Acts, see Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton, 1925, ch XVI, "Hysterics," and ch XVII, "The Reign of Terror"; 1 Morison, Life of Otis, ch VIII, "A System of Terror."


   At such times the fog of public excitement obscures the ancient landmarks set up in our Bill of Rights.  Yet then, of all times, should this Court adhere most closely to the course they mark.  This was done in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 US 353, 365, 81 L ed 278, 284, 57 S Ct 255, where the Court struck down a state statute making it a crime to participate in a meeting conducted by Communists.  It had been stipulated that the Communist Party advocated violent overthrow of the Government.  Speaking through Chief Justice Hughes, a unanimous Court calmly announced time-honored principles that should govern this Court today:  "The greater the importance of safe-guarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government."

Karl G. Granse, CCR  kgranse@earthlink.net


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