A new fight in Congress is threatening civil rights legislation. The Administration program provided for a six-member commission to investigate claims of rights denied because of race, color, religion, or national origin. A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee has eliminated the word "religion" because it might open the way to other amendments giving the commission authority in matters not related to the intent of the original program.
Protests, coming mainly from outside Congress, call the deletion "an appeasement" to Southern Democrats. The agitators, however, should realize that the civil rights program is not designed as a cure for all discrimination. Rather it is to be a practical means of implementing the laws and court decisions which already exist. Its main purpose--to enforce the integration decision and to protect voting rights of Negroes--does not concern religion. For religious qualification is an almost impossible means of preventing integration or circumscribing political rights, thanks to traditional constitutional separation of church and state. The commission, now with its chief duties clearly defined, will be better able to answer the complaints for which it was mainly created.
Thus the bill, as amended, should receive overwhelming non-Southern support. Since filibusters become more dangerous toward the end of a session, the main obstacle now is delay. Quibbles over words take time, and Southern Democrats are organizing their own dilatory tactics. Republicans and Northern Democrats should temporarily set aside their hopes for a complete guarantee of civil liberties to take one practical step in that direction.