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Freedom of the press is considered to be one of the inherent attributes of a democracy. While a dictatorship necessarily suppresses the press under its authority, allowing nothing to be published for public consumption than what can serve its interests, a democracy is supposed to give every individual free rein to express in print any views and opinions or divulge any information within the sphere of decency and good order. Thus freedom of the press, as a part of free speech, is one of the “four freedoms” we are said to be fighting for in this present war.

It is one of the freedoms guaranteed to its citizens by the constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments to the constitution as adopted in 1791, speaks of freedom of the press in one breath with freedom of religion and of peaceable assembly. It is the very first article which states that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It is quite evident that this statement, “Congress shall make no laws . . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . . of the press” can never be interpreted literally, neither in times of peace nor in war. To place the press beyond the jurisdiction of all national laws amounts to absolute license and anarchy. It means that every individual is free to express himself in print exactly as he pleases, and the law has nothing to say about it, neither as to form nor contents. A person may spread sedition, fraud, slander and what not; he may express himself in the most obscene and profane language, while the public and1 the nation have no constitutional protection against it.

Therefore it is generally conceded that this article of the Bill of Rights must be interpreted in the light of the whole constitution. The individual cannot be granted liberties at the expense of the public welfare. Liberty, so it is said, is a social benefit, to be exercised only in so far as it serves the greatest good of the greatest number. It is considered just as dangerous to allow the press unrestricted freedom of expression as it is to grant anyone the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. And since our constitution seeks the social interests of the people its articles must be read in that light.

It is interesting to note that this is the position held by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court has ruled that “the rights of which our Constitution speaks are not absolutes to be exercised independently of other cherished privileges, protected by the same organic instrument.” Therefore it has granted Congress and the States the right to punish any printed matter deemed dangerous or otherwise harmful to the State. It has determined that Congress may censor a publication in advance in cases of obscenity, and may deny mailing rights or otherwise punish by law any printed matter which threatens the welfare of the State. Thus profane and obscene language, libel, fraud, propagating sedition, advocating methods of violence or crime, and revealing military information in time of war are considered misdemeanors in the free use of the press. As late as June 9, 1942, the Supreme Court held that the exercise of free speech, press and1 religion may be limited by legislative bodies “to times, places and methods not at odds with the preservation of peace and good order.” This, by the way, was a decision passed in regard to the right of the Jehovah Witnesses to sell tracts without a public license. We cannot fail to note the difference between this interpretation of the Bill of Rights and that particular article itself. The article states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion and the press. The Court rules that “peace and good order” shall be the criterion, the sole criterion, to determine in how far the press, and even religion, must be restricted.

To date all this presents no particular difficulty in times of peace. The press expresses itself quite well as it pleases without anyone giving special thought to the restrictions of the law. It may happen that a certain magazine is deprived of its mailing privileges, and thus barred from the market because of its obscene character. Or it may be that a certain newspaper is drawn into a lawsuit on the charges of libel or the like. And it may even happen that some periodical is occasionally called to task for its radical views, especially if it makes a practice of opposing every public issue and public figure. But beyond the restrictions of decency and fairness to others the press pretty well speaks its mind as it pleases. In fact, a democracy so proudly boasts of its freedom of the press that in times of electioneering it condones “mudslinging” and insinuations almost without end. Often the more radical a publication is, and the more it appeals to the public mind, the more liberties it takes and receives. Public opinion seems to be a sufficient check on the press. What the public refuses to read it refuses to buy, and thus bars it from the market.

It is in time of war that this becomes quite a different matter. As soon as a war breaks out the press realizes that there are government restrictions to be considered. This is felt most of all in the strict censorship of the news, allowing only that to be published which has been released by the War Information Board. This is a big item especially in our day, because, if allowed to be sent out unrestricted, the news could reach any part of the world on the same day that it happens. Thus the object of restriction is twofold. On the one hand, no information may be published which may prove advantageous to the enemy. On the other hand, all military information must be released in such a way that it serves to build up the unity and morale on the home front. Even defeats and losses must be reported at such a time and in such a way as to be least felt by the people at home. Before the war a huge cry went up about the dictatorial style of releasing information to their people, withholding the facts minimizing their own losses and exaggerating the losses of the enemy. Today we have become so accustomed to these practices in our own country that we think little of it, and many are even ready to defend a misrepresentation of facts on the basis that the end justifies the means.

But there are also other wartime restrictions of the press. In peace-time it is conceded that a person has the right to express his views and opinions on any subject, regardless of whether he is right or wrong. It is argued that every case should be strong enough to withstand all its opponents and that truth will triumph over the lie. But in time of war the national interests overrule every other consideration. Anyone may denounce all past and future wars, but he must be silent on his denunciation of the present war. To denounce past and future wars is considered innocent enough, but to denounce a present war, to question national polities or to criticize the manner in which the war is waged is considered dangerous to the public safety. And anything that does not serve the “welfare of the public” must be condemned.

This was especially evident under the “sedition laws” of the last war. There are cases on record where people were punished for criticizing the government or the Red Cross, for demanding a referendum to precede the declaration of war, for complaining about the ammunition and guns used by the army, and for saying that war is contrary to the teachings of Christ. At that time the press experienced very little more freedom than under a dictator. And that is also true to a great extent today. The restrictions of war information is a clear example of how the press can be and is repressed. The hesitancy to publicly expose the tragedy of Pearl Harbor is but another example. Even during the recent election campaign there was a certain amount of reticence about opposing the present administration in its war efforts. Especially in time of war nothing must be said or published that might threaten the unity and welfare of the nation. Criticisms of national policies and actions are soon branded as unpatriotic, seditious and communistic, if not punished by law.

It should become increasingly clear to us that even in a democratic system the interests of the community overrule every other consideration. God has no place in this purely humanistic set-up. The question of what is ethically right or wrong according to the precepts of God is not taken into consideration. The first question is not our moral obligation over against the living God, but what is regarded to be the social welfare of the people. “The greatest good for the greatest number” is the motivating principle that opposes such things as profanity, fraud, sedition and the like. The atheist is given full freedom to propagate his blasphemous mockeries with the living God under the protection of the constitution. The evolutionist is allowed to publish his lies in the text books used to instruct the children in the public schools of the nation. But anything that is regarded as a disturbance of “peace and good order” cannot serve the public welfare, and must therefore be punished by legislation. It is that principle that governs the freedom of the press, and brings about numerous restrictions in time of war.

This should be a warning to the Church of Jesus Christ not to allow herself to be misled by high sounding phrases that appeal to the flesh. It is not difficult to see how easily this highly praised freedom can be turned as a weapon in the hands of antichrist against the Church. Today the Church may be free to publish her doctrine and teachings in as many forms and publications as she wishes, tomorrow these same teachings may be regarded as a detriment to the peace and welfare of the community. It would1 not be the first time in history that the Truth was considered a disturber of the peace in a world that has ruled God out of its life. Today the Church may still be the voice crying in the wilderness, but also that voice will be silenced. And that is very possible under a Bill of Rights in a country that is waging a war for freedom of speech. We do well always to be on the alert.