SEN. CHARLES MATHIAS, writing on the opposite page, calls attention to a provision of the immigration law that has been troubling for decades. In the depths of the McCarthy era, legislators, oddly frightened that Americans would be corrupted by visiting communists, anarchists and assorted others, passed legislation barring such people from entering the country. The law is not aimed at terrorists, bomb-throwers or those especially skilled in the art of provoking insurrection. It is directed against people who say and believe things the government doesn't agree with and who might express sentiments while here that the government finds offensive.

It is embarrassing to have such a law on the books in a free country, and it is outrageous, as the senator points out, to put potential visitors through the third degree about their political beliefs or intellectual convictions. The list of distinguished, controversial people who have been denied visas is unbelievable. It is doubly demeaning when restrictions are imposed on citizens of other democracies that impose no such test upon Americans.

The law is an even greater insult to Americans. It is premised on the belief that we must be protected from wrong ideas, shielded from those whose talk would corrupt, saved from the mesmerizing temptations of foreigners. The statute implies that our own leaders do not trust ordinary Americans to understand controversy, to make judgments about public issues or to resist false- hood. The law is a statement that Americans prefer not to hear those they don't agree with, not to grapple with ideas that may be wrong, not to engage in the broadest intellectual and political discourse.

The provision that Sen. Mathias objects to is an outdated vestige of another era. Its implications are absolutely wrong, its message a libel on the intelligence of a free people. The law should be repealed.