FREEDOM AND AMUSEMENTS
Meddlers in matters that are purely personal are impudent invaders.
Those who lack self-restraint are always trying to protect those who possess it.
The Puritan gets his principles from his prejudices, and his conduct is dictated by fear.
Restriction of the free activity of the individual is the purpose of the Puritan.
All the Puritan asks is that others enjoy freedom in a puritanical way.
The aggressions of the present-day Puritan are prompted by cruelty; charity is prompted by kindness.
Having no moral fibre themselves the Prohibitors believe all others are weaklings needing laws to restrain them.
If the present-day Puritan behaves himself it will be due more to public- opinion than to virtuous instincts.
The fight of the Blue Law forces for the prohibition of theatrical performances and motion picture shows on Sunday threatens to extend to every community in the Republic. Already thousands of theaters and motion picture houses have been forced to close on Sunday. The Blue Law advocates are numerous, active and well organized, and have plenty of funds; and if the amusement-loving public and the theatrical and film interests do not act to restrict these aggressions, the fanatical crusaders eventually will accomplish all their purposes, those at present only hinted at as well as those openly avowed.
The Lord’s Day Alliance, one of the numerous organizations promoting the Blue Law propaganda, boasts that it has the support of fifteen religious denominations back of it.
In Washington and in most of the ‘state capitals, the Sunday Blue Law Puritans maintain powerful lobbies in the interest of sectarian laws. Under the delusion that the purpose of the government is to enact laws giving them the exclusive right to do business on Sunday, they do not hesitate to threaten with formidable political opposition at home those lawmakers who do not yield to their wheedling or cajolery. The Alliance has announced through its leader, Rev. Bowlby, that it will approach state legislators everywhere with a demand for laws to enforce the particular kind of Sunday observance the Alliance thinks good for the country and then force through a Blue Sunday Amendment to the federal Constitution.
The “Nation” says this organization has plenty of money and “a fanaticism that is both fierce and frozen; there is the insolence of the fanatical; there is also, we suspect, a mood of desperation back of this scheme. That desperation comes from the discovery on the part of certain churches and parsons that they can no longer hold the congregation to which they believe they have a vested right. They are consequently asking the civil powers to put out a hand to help them, and are in the same breath invoking the memory of the Puritans who left England because the churches there had just this sort of backing from the civil authorities and used it.”
The “Chicago Tribune” of March 4, 1923, quotes the Rev. Bowlby, head of the “Lord’s Day Alliance,” as saying: “Those citizens of the United States who do not want Blue Sundays are privileged to move out.” How sweetly tolerant!
In New York the law forbids theaters to open on Sunday but permits motion picture shows.
Mr. William B. Brady, the national manager of the moving picture organization, has been charged with violating the Sunday law by having a theater open on Sunday. He notified the police commissioners of New York City that if the Rev. Dr. Bowlby is to be allowed to continue his campaign, he (Mr. Brady) will form a “Sunday Alliance” of his own, and see that “all Sunday laws, not one of them,” are enforced. This is the spirit discriminatory laws create.
In Union, N. J., the Lord’s Day Alliance had a number of show managers arrested, among them the Rev. Father J. N. Grieff. The arrest of the priest caused a great storm, and the judge hastened to remit the fine and promised not to do it again. But the judge (Recorder Hauenstein) threatened to hale the other show men before the grand jury if they repeated their offence. The Rev. Grieff was as guilty as the others and should have been treated as they were. He is the promoter of the Passion Play, which gives a performance every Sunday. The exhibition is openly presented as a “play,” and those who take part in it are play actors. It is advertised exactly like any other performance, and the prices of admission are stiff-“orchestra and balcony, $1.50, $1, 75 cents, 50 cents; loges and boxes, $2.” (We quote from the 12- page “Passion Play Mirror,” printed to advertise the piece in New York, where it is illegal.) “Cash, check or money order, payable to Rev. J. N. Grieff, should be sent with all requests for tickets.” “Performances every Sunday afternoon at 2 :30.”
Nothing could be more unfair or destructive of the principle of equality than this decision. It is disgraceful enough that in any state of this secular Republic a citizen can be arrested and fined for giving on Sunday an exhibition that is legitimate on any other day of the week. It is many times worse when the act of the state is aecompanied with such an exhibition of class distinction as in this case.
In March, 1923, by an almost unanimous vote of both houses, the Tennessee Legislature prohibited Sunday motion picture shows. Mr. W. S. Bryne of Chattanooga, Tenn., writes to a New York paper of this legislation:
“The average Sunday attendance at the theaters in Chattanooga is about 30,000, or nearly one-third of the total population of the place. The crowds are well dressed, intelligent-looking and orderly. Nobody tries to cut his neighbor’s throat or pick his pocket. If a vote were taken, there is not the slightest doubt that everyone of the thirty thousand would cast his ballot for open theaters on Sunday. But this makes no difference; our Christian neighbors know better than we what is good for us, and, their judgment being infallible, they legislate for us accordingly. The average Sunday attendance at the churches is less than 5,000, or about four per cent of the population. But these are the very cream of all the people. They are the only ones who know what is good for their neighbors, and they accordingly take the whip in hand and make us dance to their music. One-third of the population must obey the will of the superlatively good four per cent. Is anybody soft enough or green enough to suppose that such an unjust act of religious intolerance will endure?”
Jefferson and Washington gave Virginia a constitution that guarantees all men “the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience,” but the Blue propagandists forced Richmond to pass a Sunday closing law, and now announce they will demand that the legislature pass a state wide Blue Law.
Utah has enacted a Blue Law making it a misdemaeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $25, to do any kind of work on Sunday that it is possible to do during the week.
Of the Blue Law in Amana, Iowa, the “Lyons Republican” says:
“The reformers have carried this to such an extent in Amana, Iowa, that 300 young people have already left the town and taken up their residence in another part of the country. For instance, in that town with ‘blue laws’ sweethearts were not allowed to
make dates with their lovers except on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and these affairs must terminate with the curfew bell. At church the men and women sit on opposite sides of the room. The community is run on the principle of a penitentiary.”
According to New York papers, the Rev. James M. Gillis, of the Paulist Fathers Church, in speaking against the motion picture shows, said in part: “The worst people are making the tastes of the people bad. In the picture there is much nasty suggestiveness, prolonged kissing and hugging! It is an insult to your intelligence more than to your morals! The men and women who make these pictures are not artists, trained actors and actresses; no, they just grew up over night. Now, here is the question: Are the standards of morality to be made lower and lower until we are as bad as Paris? Is there to be no one to say ‘stop’? Is there no possible stop to the abuse?”
The Rev. John Roach Straton is quoted in the New York newspapers as condemning all theatrical performances alike.
Some of these ministers will not even accept an actor when he gets religion. The Rev. J. W. Knupp writes a letter to the Indianapolis Sunday “Star” about the conversion to Christianity of Fred Stone, the actor, in which he says:
“Fred Stone nor any other man or woman can lead a life pleasing to God and at the same time be yoked up with worldly picture shows and theaters, however clean they may appear to the unregenerated man. No, no. The Christian life is one of separation from all things worldly.”
Before the screen club of Denver, Judge Ben B. Lindsey on behalf of the boys spoke in favor of Sunday motion picture shows and took a strong position against censorship. All of the talk about “crime due to the movies,” he said, was baseless or grossly exaggerated, and he quoted an Eastern judge of a juvenile court who told him that he had a bigger docket of criminal cases on Monday than on any other day of the week, all because of the Blue Laws that closed up the motion picture shows and the baseball games. Said he: “My experience in the juvenile court is that Sunday movies are positively in the interest of morality and good citizenship.”
For making this speech, a number of Denver ministers attacked him in their sermons and by letter, one of them asking: “Is it not a fact that over 80 per cent of cases in your court trace back to the movies?” He replied that in all his experience he had known but six such hypothetical cases. “I have had cases of boys from Sunday school and from the church in my court. I have had cases of Sunday school boys robbing the church box, but I don’t hold the church or Sunday school responsible for those cases.”
The above statement was taken from the Denver “Express,” and in the Denver “Post” was published a statement from Judge Lindsey as follows:
“I have been on the bench for twenty-one years-twenty-one years; yes, sir; and I am here today to tell you ministers that the children can and have committed more crime right inside of the churches than the motion picture was ever capable of.”
Let it be understood that the motion picture people are not attacking the church, but that some of the church representatives are attacking the motion pictures; and as they commenced the fight they should not complain if they get hit occasionally.
Of course there is evil in the theaters, in the motion picture show, in dancing, in motoring; in fact, there is evil in everything if put to an evil purpose, and the church is no exception-ministers go astray every year. A book compiled by the Truth Seeker Company of N ew York, entitled “The Crimes of Preachers,” gives a list of several hundred ministers that have committed crimes in the United States within the last few years. Now, then, shall we close the churches because some of its members do evil? If all places in which evil may insinuate itself are to be closed, the church too must be shut up, and that is just what a writer in Pasadena, California, advocates. This man demands of the Public Safety Commissioner that he “show no discrimination-close everything, even the churches. Stop the street cars, give the police and firemen a day off. Make everyone stay in his house. Don’t even let the children play in the streets.”
Of course this attitude is strictly to the point if the Blue Sunday is to be consistently enforced. Libertarians are opposed to prohibiting any worship or pleasure in deference to a particular day of the week, or because it includes evil.
No one is compelled to go to picture shows, and the motion picture shows do not disturb anyone’s peace or interfere with the enjoyment of people who do not care to attend them.
The picture show is the poor man’s amusement. There he can get diversion and instruction at a price within his reach. To deprive him of this joy on the only day some can attend is impudent interference and intolerable.
There is no need for special laws for any day; a law to be just must be applicable alike on all days. If the law is fit for Sunday it is fit for all days in the week. If it is not fit for all other days, then it is not fit for Sunday.
The Libertarian believes in liberty for himself and others equally. The Puritan believes in the liberty to do as he wants to and making others do as he wants them to do.
While some of the reformers are impeaching the drama and motion picture shows and some are concentrating their attacks on Sunday theaters, others are actively campaigning for a censorship of books, paintings, the stage, motion pictures, bathing costumes, women’s dresses, dances, and no end of things, however vital or trivial.
Many cities have censors, and their official meddling has cost the motion picture interests millions of dollars.
In New York City they have censorship, and during the first five months of its operation in 1922 the Censorship Commission cost $37,000.00, examined 3630 films, made eliminations in 160 and banned 5. For this trifling result, the motion picture industry was taxed in license fees $158,000. On this showing the Commission asked the New York Legislature to create a host of inspectors to visit daily the State’s 1700 motion picture theaters.
Of course, the motion picture producers have been greatly hampered in their work by the varying tastes and judgment of the censors in different localities. Pictures that have passed the first inspection and have been produced in large quantities at great expense have been stopped by other censors. Pictures that are all right in Chicago are all wrong in New York; they may not be exhibited in N ew Jersey, but are all right in Ohio; they are decent in Tennessee but are indecent in Iowa. The absurdity of this never occurs to these dull ones; and were their attention called to it they would still be indifferent to the great loss to the producers in having their work and investments thus destroyed.
Censorship by officials is an unwarranted interference. To presume to be a judge of what all other people can see is an impudent position to take. It might be thought that what would corrupt others would corrupt the censor; but that is impossible, for he was already corrupted or he would not have taken the job.
To interfere with a democratic people partaking of a democratic amusement is certainly autocratic and such interference will be treated as all autocratic acts deserve to be treated.
Theatrical artists are the ones who may best eliminate the coarse and the ugly from and develop the fine and the beautiful in the drama without the aid of those who know nothing about this art or any other.
A number of people who attend motion picture shows regularly have been consulted, and all of them state that they have never witnessed a picture that was indecent or even improper. This would indicate that there is not much to complain of. Even the paid meddlers have not discovered much, and their jobs depend on their ability to find impropriety and indecency.
Such a censorship is at war with the free spirit of the American people. It assumes what all history proves is not true-that a small and fixed class of persons best knows what is good for the people at large. The fact is, there is no class with such superior knowledge. The welfare and safety of any state or nation can be preserved only by the public intelligence. If that intelligence dare not be trusted, all hope is lost.
The opponents of motion pictures are lineal descendants of that group in Europe that condemned the invention of type as ‘The Black Art.”
There is no need for any fanatical busy-bodies to censor shows. They know nothing about either the spoken or silent drama. They never spend a dime to find out. The shows have had at all times the proper censor-the one that counts-and it needs no law to uphold it. It is the patrons of the theaters. No improper motion picture shows pay. That is enough to settle the question, and it does settle it. The effrontery of these self-constituted censors in assailing the people’s taste by an attack on the motion pictures verges on insanity.
Mr. Dooley had the Blue Law proponents in mind when he said: “Rayformers, Hinnissy, is in favor iv suppressin’ iverthing, but rale pollyticians believe in suppressin’ nawthin’ but ividence.”
That some of these day-of-gloom advocates are sincere may be conceded, but that does not lessen their crime. The worst people on earth have been sincere. Those who burned people to death as witches were sincere enough, but their act was a dastardly crime just the same. The same species of sincere fanatics is rampant today, and power to censor anything should be kept out of their hands.
The motion picture, although in its infancy, has demonstrated its worth in education; it is much more effective and pleasing
than text books and may replace them. It can and does present geography in a most pleasing way. Not only does it exhibit wonderful and beautiful scenes from all parts of the world to people who could never visit those localities, but it presents life-like pictures of people from every country under the sun. In biology it shows in a most instructive way the evolution of forms of life, such as that of the frog from the tadpole and the butterfly from the caterpillar; and likewise scenes from wild animal life taken in its native jungle.
The Libertarian wants everyone to be left free to choose his own amusements, even though his choice may be unwise.
The Blue Law authoritarian wants to prohibit most amusements, and to make the world over in his own likeness. When this is accomplished, this world will be what the old Puritans said it was-“a vale of tears.” The freest life is none too happy, but without liberty life is intolerable.
We are going to inform those fierce and fanatical forces that we are going to have more liberty, not less. The enemies of liberty must not mistake the inactivity of the lovers of liberty for indifference to it. The latter have taken it for granted that liberty was established and safe, but when they have thought it was being attacked, and have seen the possibility of its being taken away from them, they have been aroused from their lethargy and the enemies of freedom will find opponents worthy of their steel.