JULY 24, 1945
HYDE PARK, Monday—If anyone told us in this country that freedom of religion was not an actual fact, our oldest and most respected citizens would cry out in horror. Yet I think it is time that we stopped to consider certain things, which we have held as theories ever since we accepted our Constitution, in relation to the facts as they exist in our country today.
If it makes no difference to what religion you subscribe, why do you have to put it down in your service papers? The answer usually is—for the Navy, at least—that men should have the privilege of being buried with the rites of their own church. But, as a matter of fact, the same prayers are usually used for every man, regardless of religion, who dies at sea. Having to put down what religion you belong to sometimes subjects a man to discrimination if his superiors are so inclined.
It isn't only in the armed services, however, that this question is asked. Frequently, when you apply for a job, that is one of the questions you must answer. If you run for public office in this country, too, it is one of the questions which you must expect to have the public ask.
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So much for freedom of religion, to which in theory, of course, we all subscribe. Now, how about our freedom as American citizens in the economic and political fields?
One of the freedoms clearly stated in the Atlantic Charter was that people must have freedom from want. In other words, we must have economic freedom. Every human being must have an equal chance to earn a living according to the opportunities open in his area of the world.
It is true that in this country many strong men have surmounted all difficulties to gain high places in our national life and in the economic world of our country. But that doesn't mean that for every man there is equal opportunity. Many a man meets a barrier because of his racial background or because of his religion.
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Lastly, how about our vaunted political freedom? Can we, as long as any state in our nation exacts a poll tax from a citizen before he can participate as a citizen, feel that we are politically free?
I wonder if seven million white American citizens and three million Negro American citizens in the South, who can't vote because they cannot pay their poll tax, really agree with some of the things that were said about our Negro soldiers in that recent Congressional filibuster? Two Senators out of 96 kept all their brother law-makers from voting, and during the greatest war in our history spent a lot of time, which can never be recovered, just talking against a portion of the American people who in their particular states have no way of acting to remove them from office.