THEIR HEARTS may have been in the right place, but a majority of the board of editors of the Georgetown Law Journal has made a woeful mistake. As a gesture of resistance to apartheid, they have decided to cancel the subscription of the University of South Africa, a public institution with ties to the government which has been receiving the Georgetown journal for many years. The decision stands common sense on its head.

The Law Journal, which is published and edited by students, is a forum for the exposition and discussion of ideas, particularly ideas about the rule of law, constitutional government and human rights. These articles are exactly what the students at the University of South Africa ought to be reading. But after protracted discussion, the Georgetown students decided that sending their publication to South Africa was tantamount to trading with and, in effect, supporting that repressive regime. "Each firm or organization that does business with South Africa," they state, "whether it sells machine guns or law reviews, must evaluate the appropriateness of doing business with a branch of government that systematically disregards the most basic human rights."

The faculty and administration of Georgetown Law School have taken no position on the editors' decision, since the journal is, as it should be, an independent student organization. But a group of associate editors is trying to force reconsideration. These students argue that it is important to support the broad dissemination of ideas especially in parts of the world where political debate is routinely suppressed. This is a traditional American view that encourages free speech, access to information and discussion of public issues, and it should prevail.

There is a better way for the journal's editors to protest apartheid. Georgetown's students have much to say to their counterparts abroad. Perhaps an entire issue of the Law Journal could be devoted to South Africa, its racial policies, human rights violations and the role of American business in that country. Hundreds of extra copies should be printed and mailed to the University of South Africa -- free of charge.