Last edited: February 14, 2005

Unpopular Causes

Washington Post, August 8, 1963
Page A14

A House District Subcommittee is to hold a hearing this morning on an unfortunate bill introduced by Representative John Dowdy of Texas. The bill would amend the District of Columbia Charitable Solicitation Act in two ways. First, it would forbid the issuance of a certificate of registration to any organization soliciting charitable contributions in the District unless the District Commissioners find that "the solicitation which would be authorized by such certificate will benefit or assist in promoting the health, welfare, and the morals of the District of Columbia." The second amendment would revoke a certificate of registration already issued to the Mattachine Society of Washington.

To make the solicitation of funds for an organization concerned with ideas dependent upon official approval of the purpose for which the funds are to be used would be to put a very serious crimp in the right of expression and petition. There is little need for a constitutional guarantee of free speech for ideas which already enjoy majority acceptance. The first amendment was added to the Constitution to protect the advocacy of unpopular and unorthodox ideas. Mr. Dowdy’s first section would violate the first amendment.

There is little doubt that the Mattachine Society espouses an unconventional cause. It is a social action group dedicated, according to its constitution, "to improving the status of the homosexual in our society, in the interest both of that minority group and of the Nation." It aims, in short, to protect the rights of homosexuals and to promote understanding of them. It does not function in any way, of course, to promote homosexual activity.

We think that the organization has a clear right to make a plea for public support. The law under which it was licensed to do so is simply a law which recognizes that right. Mr. Dowdy’s second section, revoking the license, looks to us very much like a bill of attainder—a legislative act inflicting punishment without judicial trial. The Constitution flatly forbids Congress to pass a bill of attainder.

The Post editorial was written by the late Alan Barth. His wife Adrienne worked for many, many years, and may still, at the ACLU office. —Frank Kameny

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