THE SHERATON WASHINGTON HOTEL is hosting a convention, including an arms exhibit, of the Air Force Association next month. Maybe you think this is a normal piece of business for a hotel (the old Sheraton Park) that takes in a lot of conventions. But a religious group called Sojourners, which describes itself as a "peace" organization, and some local ministers object. They have asked the management to "refuse to turn a profit by providing space for an obscene bazaar of killer weapons . . . the poor from whom federal budget money is being taken to be spent on these weapons cry out to you." Otherwise, they say, they'll try to organize a convention boycott.
Well, it is a familiar little cameo, this scene in which one group brimming with self-righteousness attempts to abridge the rights of another group with which it happens to be out of sympathy. The purpose and pronouncements of this group constitute almost a parody of a style of intolerant protest that has been particularly costly to what its supporters like to call the "peace movement". One would think such groups would have learned long ago the damage they do to their professed cause by these tactics. In this instance, we note, the hotel seems to have had no difficulty in deciding to continue with business as usual. It will be a surprise if the boycott talk amounts to much.
But there is a larger social cost to be paid. There is never a good time for social extremism but this is a bad time. The country is going through a period in which painfully conflicting interests and values have to be accommodated. The line between standing for principle and blocking necessary accommodation may not be very clear, but people who range themselves on the far side of it take upon themselves a definite responsibility.Denying one's own patronage to an enterprise with which one disagrees is one thing. Organizing a boycott is another. It is, of course, not only religious groups that move into controversial social and political questions. But religious groups are active, and it is evident that conservative religious groups are increasingly active. The convention-boycott group runs a real risk that its model of intolerant expression will be used to license a similar approach, by groups that may already be so inclined and that, in the current atmosphere, may wield considerably more weight.