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. Dowdys 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
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. Dowdys second section, revoking the license,
looks to us very much like a bill of attaindera 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.