To the Editor:
In his article, “The Rule of Law in the South” [September], Haywood Burns seems to forget an important point regarding our legal system in the U.S.: individual citizens are legally entitled to a great many things, like the vote, a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law, but not to a favorable response to their political activities from their fellow citizens.
If I were a Southern segregationist and I saw one of my employees taking part in a civil-rights demonstration or registration drive, I certainly would not employ him in my factory or shop longer than his contract demanded. Why should I give anyone the opportunity to make financial or other gains by way of my own business if that person does not further my interests through his political conduct? The extreme example of this would be to ask of a Jewish citizen that he retain a dedicated anti-Semite in his employ. . . . The “Rule of Law” does not ensure private security-it does ensure private freedom. But clearly, it is not an infringement of a person’s freedom to refuse to employ him in one’s own business establishment. If this were so then any business . . . forced to lay off employees would be abridging the freedom of those employees.
Finally, to suggest that political education is a responsibility of either the state or the federal government is absurd. If this were the case there would be no end to the educational responsibilities of our several governments in view of the widespread ignorance which exists in this country about politics.
Tibor R. Machan
New York City
To the Editor:
Reading Mr. Burns’s article . . . my anger toward the government rose for its disregard for the welfare of some of its citizens. Its responsibilities are obvious and all the excuses offered by the Justice Department are mere rationalizations. . . . Congress appropriates millions for our war machine but denies the Civil Rights Division a paltry million dollars to meet its increased needs. Because of its failure to appropriate additional funds to the compliance section of the Office of Education, Title VI will become a farce. . . .
Mr. Burns writes:
In his letter Mr. Machan seems to have forgotten, or not to be aware of, several important points regarding our legal system in the United States. In my article I neither asserted nor implied that individual citizens are ensured a “favorable response” to their political activities. However, I do maintain that our Constitution and our laws recognize that a necessary part of an ordered democracy must be that all individuals are assured of a certain level of personal security in the exercise of their rights. To proclaim the existence of the right to vote, and at the same time to accept the fact that for certain groups of citizens this right will be exercised only on pain of having their homes burned, their families threatened, their livelihood cut off or their lives extinguished, is to render the right all but worthless.
Economic liberty is not economic license to use one’s property in any way one sees fit—especially when such use involves the invasion and the destruction of the rights of others. This is a fundamental principle of property law and of the law of civil rights. In Fayette and Haywood counties, Tennessee, in the early part of the 1960’s, Negroes who attempted to register to vote found themselves evicted from their homes, thrown off the land on which they were living, and unable to obtain gasoline for their farm vehicles or food for their families anywhere in their local community. Such interference with the franchise was the basis for legal intervention by the Justice Department, which was quick to point out that economic, as well as physical, reprisals or threats were covered by the laws against intimidation of voters.
I am confident that even the caution of the Justice Department in matters of personal protection would not allow it to accept Mr. Machan’s blanket statement that “The ‘Rule of Law’ does not ensure private security—it does ensure private freedom,” for it must be obvious that abstract liberty is virtually meaningless without the concrete possibility of exercising it. Mr. Machan’s formulation only works if he means personal freedom for some, for unless there is some measure of personal security for all, it will continue to be possible for one part of the community to nullify the rights of another part.
Finally, in no place did I suggest that “political education is a responsibility of either the state or federal government,” though I might agree with this proposition—depending upon what Mr. Machan means by “political education” (high-school civics courses, for example?) . What I did say was that effective enfranchisement of the Negro in the deep South will require a wide range of activities necessary to make Negroes aware of their long-denied rights and to introduce them to their use. This is a job for the civil-rights worker. But the protection of the Negro and the civil-rights worker alike in this process is the responsibility of those in our society who have been given the duty to enforce the law.
In reply to Mr. Stasiewitz: Congress did appropriate funds for the increased needs of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the problem of congressional appropriations for civil-rights enforcement is an ever present hurdle that must be cleared even after the tumult and the shouting of getting the legislation have died away.