U.S. BISHOPS ON CENSORSHIP
Its necessity and its limitations
BECAUSE freedom of the press is a basic right to be respected and safeguarded, it must be understood and defended not as licence, but as true rational freedom.
The kind of uncritical claims put forward in defence of liberty, which have so often been made in our day, actually places that liberty in jeopardy. Light must be thrown not only on its meaning, but also on its limits.
These points have been emphasised by the Bishops of the United States in a statement on " Censorship ", issued on their behalf this week by the Administrative Board of the American National Catholic Welfare Conference.
" Censorship is today a provocative and sometimes misleading word." stated the Bishops. The State's power of censorship is not unlimited; in normal circumstances—apart from times of war or great national danger — it exercises only a punitive function, placing restraint on those who misuse liberty.
The Church, on the other hand, exercises a moral censorship. a right which depends on her office as teacher of morals and guardian of divine truth. Her decisions bind her people but her sanctions are only spiritual and moral.
While man's right to search for and know the truth is evidently broad and sweeping, his right to express his knowledge is limited by his duty to exercise it with a sense of responsibility. But this freedom of expression is Closely connected with other freedoms that man prizes.
" Freedom of the press is patently a key safeguard of civil liberty. Democracy does not exist without it," stated the Bishops. It is no less indispensable to the Church in carrying out her mission to preach the gospel.
However, this freedom of expression is not an absolute freedom; it has limits, although it is alleged that this freedom can suffer no curtailment or limitation without being destroyed. The traditional and sounder understanding of freedom recognises that liberty has a moral dimension: man is true to himself as a free being when he acts in accord with the laws of right reason.
our common Christian heritage, Civil enactments, as well as the moral law, indicate that the exercise of this freedom cannot he unrestrained, as has been shown in recent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States: " We hold that obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech dr press."
" Ideally, we could wish that no man-made legal restraints were ever necessary," added the Bishops. Since, however, indivtduals act irresponsibly and threaten social and moral harm, " society must face its responsibility and exercise its authority."