Letter to the students and faculty of Vanderbilt Divinity School about the expulsion of James Lawson, March 15, 1960


March 15, 1960
To the Faculty and Students of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School:
We, faculty members and students of the Yale University Divinity
School Association, are deeply concerned with the events that have
recently placed you in a position of difficult decision and decisive
witness. We fully support you in your protests against the action of
the Executive Committee of the Board of Trust, by which the Reverend
James . Lawson was expelled, and in your continuing to work constructively in the situation.
We consider the action of the Executive Committee in the expulsion
of Mr. Lawson to be unjust. We feel that the position to which Vanderbilt
University has been committed by the action of these officials stands in
stark contrast to the respect which the University has come to command.
Furthermore, we consider that the decision of the Executive Committee
was based upon a prejudgment of legal transgression on the part of the.
defendant, before any final verdict has been rendered by the courts.
Also involved, we feel, was a violation “of the right of the Divinity
School faculty to be fully consulted in the case.
While it is impossible for us to judge from here the complexity
of your situation, we can and do, unequivocally and wholeheartedly,
support the right for non-violent public protest when basic human
rights are ‘ violated. It is our conviction that the right of peaceful
protest is a necessary right in any democracy, and that any denial of
the free exercise o this right to any individual inevitably works
damage upon the very structure of democracy. Still more, the witness
of the Church is severely handicapped by such attempts to limit the
free exercise of Christian conscience. Under such limitation theological education is threatened with shallowness and irrelevance.

Specifically, we recognize the terrible plight in which the
Negro citizens of the United States have been kept, and we deplore
the fact that widespread demonstrations have currently become necessary in order for men to seek justice. We admire the courageous action that men have taken in order to call attention to injustice and their willingness to submit to the consequences of this action. In this matter of racial inequality we stand judged with our society,
and we also feel urgently called upon to act in a responsible manner.

Thus we, in our common brotherhood as Christians, make ourselves
available for whatever concrete assistance we can render. To this
end we would appreciate any specific suggestions and further information regarding current developments. Please know that, with continued concern, we keep you in our prayers.
For the Association*
Merle Allshouse, President

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