SEPTEMBER 8, 1949
ATLANTA,Wednesday—The banning of the magazine The Nation, from the public schools of New York City by the Board of Education, has implications which go much further than the City of New York and this particular publication. It happens that The Nation has been a liberal magazine, published over a long period of years. On the whole, I think its record has been one of presenting both sides of a question fairly.
Over the last two or three years I think some of us have felt that The Nation was perhaps showing less balance on one or two subjects. Nevertheless, banning a magazine of this kind without a public hearing seems an undemocratic procedure.
I signed the letter asking for a public hearing. But I remarked at the time that I felt the articles under discussion which had caused the banning seemed decidedly prejudiced articles. Being opposed to censorship and feeling that by the time young people reach high school age they should begin to be exposed to both sides of every question, and to think through their own beliefs, I preferred having both sides put forth their point of view.
I do not feel that banning books, magazines, newspapers, special writers or radio commentators actually trains people in the democratic processes.
I feel that if you live in a democracy you have to be able, because of the freedom which is part of the rights of every individual in a democracy, to make your own judgments as an individual. Since all people must have equal freedom we must be trained to decide after hearing the facts where we ourselves stand. Therefore, you need to hear both sides of every question.
If you surrender your freedom to an individual or a group in the hope that any decision taken will be for your benefit, then you no longer live in a democratic way.
Hence, I would have required The Nation and every publication accepted for a school library to give equal space to present opposing views on political, religious or educational subjects.
Because of the long and bitter controversy and the fact that the Board of Superintendents is charged with having acted in a punitive fashion, The Nation has decided to bring a suit to test the constitutionality of what the board has done.
The Nation will charge that when you rule out the entire future of a magazine and do not hold judgment only to such installments as contain objectionable material, that the action is punitive. It adds that standards for judging materials to be included in public high school libraries were presented after the Board of Superintendents actually had taken action on The Nation. It also maintains that it would be extremely difficult to comply with them, even had these standards been circulated beforehand, because of "their vagueness and ambiguity."
Legally, The Nation will try to prove that there has been a violation of the freedom of the press.
Whether The Nation wins or loses the suit, I think much clarification will come out of the discussion of the points brought up and perhaps more of us will think seriously as to the way we really want democracy to work and whether we are willing to give enough effort to think through problems for ourselves. We should not leave them to other people to decide for us.
If that is our decision we will demand that both sides be put before us and that no ban is placed on any material presenting an honest point of view.