JULY 6, 1962
HYDE PARK —As has been our custom, a reading of the Declaration of Independence was a part of our Fourth of July observance here. This usually follows a swim by those who want to swim and when the rest of us have had all we want to eat.
This year the young people joined me in feeling that we should read the first 10 amendments which form the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Because of the current discussion over the recent decision of the Supreme Court on a state prayer, we regard the first article of the Constitution.
The words that most of us remember, of course, are those that declare the unalienable rights of human beings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and those in which each signer of the Declaration of Independence promised support of the previously stated ideas with their lives, their worldly goods and their sacred honor.
These men knew quite well that they were going to have to fight for these words. The battle had really just begun. But what they did not tell us was that through the years to come this fight would have to be fought over and over again if the rights were to become realities not only in the lives of the people in this country, but in the lives of people throughout the world.
Perhaps they knew there would be a struggle here but did not have a picture of the length of the struggle nor of its recurring angles and the various ways in which our freedom would come up for interpretation.
In line with this need for watchfulness, I want to tell of a case in point.
I have received from an academic group in California a petition concerning the difficulties of a teacher having once been a member of the Communist party, left it at one point, and tried to get back in several years later when he felt there was a chance, under Khrushchev, the party would be reformed.
While being perfectly frank before the investigating committee about his own activities and views, he refused to inform on other persons because he felt this would be morally wrong. He is charged with violating the Dilworth Act "by refusal to answer questions about other people" and, of course, with having been a member of the Communist party within the last five years with the knowledge that it advocated the overthrow of the United States government.
The academic committee defending him narrows its defense to two points. First, it feels the case will really be judged on the point of forcing a person to become an informer. Second, it feels there is implicit in the case "the right of an adherent of politically unorthodox ideas, namely a member of the Socialist Workers party, to remain a teacher."
These points, if they go to the Supreme Court for decision, will be important because there are a great many people who feel that our whole standard of ethics is opposed to the child, or man or woman, who informs on someone else. And if the court should base its ruling on this point alone, it would be a highly important constitutional decision.
The fact that the man himself evidently holds extremely unorthodox views, as do some of the men on the committee defending him, does not really detract from the importance of having a decision reached on that point.
Many persons instinctively feel that it is wrong to force someone to inform on someone else, and particularly when we are not at war, it seems we should think carefully before overriding a principle that has been one of our basic ethical teachings as far back as many of us can remember.
There is some legislation which I have been asked to urge the people of the country to become interested in. This is a set of six resolutions now before the Senate and the House Judiciary Committees which would establish each year "Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week in the USA."
It seems that to pay respectful tribute to the memory of the brave Federal, state or municipal police officers killed in the line of duty is a gesture well justified by the performance of the greater part of our peace officers.
Where officers do fall short of the highest standards, "Police Week" would be helpful in raising both morale and standards.
(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, July 6, 1962
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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