The March for Life in Washington, DC is now the longest sustained public demonstration in American history. It has drawn between 10,000 and 1,000,000 peaceful, prayerful participants since 1974. The annual procession from the Ellipse to the United States Supreme Court building has now become a Washington fixture. Many government officials strategically schedule themselves and their staff to be out of town, even the President has left Washington the day before the March and returned the day after. In its early days, the March drew national media attention, but not so much anymore. Some major news agencies ignore it altogether. The National Parks Service doesn’t count its numbers, and doesn’t mention it on its day book. Many see in this a deliberate attempt to make the March insignificant and curtail its influence. Others say it’s just because it’s been around so long.
The obvious question is “Why March?” If it doesn’t garner the public attention it once did, if it has not persuaded the High Court, Congress or the President to change the law, wouldn’t it be better to try something else?
It is still important, perhaps now more than ever before, to march for life. The March and more specifically, the Marchers, have come to serve as a symbol, an expression, a “Sign of Contradiction” if you will, calling to mind the national sin against innocent lives and restating, over and again, the unalienable and inviolable right to life which belongs to every human being, especially the innocent unborn. It is also a sign of the collective conscience. Each of us knows the unfortunate human condition expressed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom 7:19) When we as individuals commit sin, our consciences are alerted, assemble themselves and rise up against the sin, driving us to repentance, amendment of life and reconciliation. The Marchers are like a collective conscience in society. Conscious of the intrinsic evil of abortion, euthanasia and other horrible attacks against innocent life, the Marchers assemble themselves, rise up against the sin of killing innocents and call the nation to reversal, amendment of national policy and restoration of the right to life.
Such public demonstrations, which include the extensive coordination and cooperation between so many individuals, social institutions and the Church is a very healthy and much needed exercise in a culture that overemphasizes selfish interests and personal gratification even at the expense of the abandonment, exploitation and suffering of others. The March is an antidote for the toxin of selfishness and ignorance of the plight of the innocent victims and their families. Elected and appointed officials and all those who responsible for public policy are reminded by 50,000 plus students, families, teachers, first responders, health care workers, religious, clergy and many other members of the American family that they have a positive obligation to defend and protect the most innocent and vulnerable members of that family. The Marchers put flesh and blood on an otherwise abstract debate about morality and policy. Every Marcher, after all, was an embryo, a fetus. Many Marchers are members of the “Silent No More Awareness Campaign”, women who were victimized by abortion expressing their regret and calling on others not to make the same mistake.
The March for Life remains a very important and meaningful effort to exercise our national conscience and urge everyone concerned to all they can to protect and save as many innocent human lives as possible and save the moral and social fabric that is foundational to a just and enduring society.
I need to share with you an urgent matter! We are facing the most critical and demanding US Supreme Court term in many, many years. There are three cases I am personally associated with: Greece v. Galloway, which will determine whether overtly Christian prayers will be banned at legislative sessions, McCullen v. Coakley, which will determine whether pro-life sidewalk counselors will be allowed to present alternatives to abortion to women going into or leaving abortion clinics and Hobby Lobby v. Sebellius, which will determine whether the birth-control and abortion mandate in Obamacare will be struck down.
The Greece case involves the pastor of the first church my brother, Rev. Rob Schenck and I preached a sermon in. The pastor gave the opening prayer for the town council and concluded in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. An atheist sued to have such overt Christian prayers banned from public legislative sessions. If the Court strikes down the prayers, it could end the noble tradition of opening state legislatures, Congress, the Presidential inaugural and yes, even the US Supreme Court in prayer! The McCullen case explicitly uses my US Supreme Court case, Rev. Schenck v. ProChoice Network (1997) to challenge a Massachusetts law prohibiting pro-life sidewalk counseling around abortion businesses in that state. My brother and I worked very hard, and went to prison to challenge a similar restriction on pro-life speech in New York, and we plan to join the challenge to the Massachusetts restrictions. The Hobby Lobby case involves our friends the Greenes, founders and owners of the Hobby Lobby chain (and to whom my brother and I gave the Ten Commandments Award) who have challenged the Constitutionality of the HHS Mandate requiring the purchase of birth-control and abortifacient drugs through Obamacare. These three cases will determine our religious freedom and freedom of speech for years, even generations to come.
Joining these cases through the filing of official Amicus Briefs, media statements and press conferences and educating the public is very, very expensive. We simply do not have the funds on hand to cover the costs of one case, let alone three at one time. You know I don’t ask very often, in fact I rarely write to you for your financial assistance. But now I must ask you to please assist me in preparing for these cases. I need to raise at least $25,000.00 to properly prepare and present I support in these three momentous US Supreme Court cases.
If ever you have considered a large contribution to the National Pro Life Center on Capitol Hill (the only pro-life mission located on Capitol Hill and the only one situated next to the US Supreme Court) please, please do so now! There are three ways you can give: safe and secure online by clicking here, or you can call us at the Faith And Action office at 202-546-8329 or you can send us a check or money order at NPLC, 113 2nd Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. DC mail takes about 2-3 weeks to reach us so you might choose the method that helps right away.
Your donation of $500, $300, $150, $25 or more will allow us to properly prepare for these three cases that will change the direction of our laws and our country. Thank you for hearing me out, and for your generous contribution for our work.
Wednesday, June 26 I concelebrated Holy Mass at the altar in St. Joseph on the Hill Church in Washington, DC. A sparse congregation was in attendance, making it easy to notice a sitting Justice of the United States Supreme Court. That was of particular interest since the Court would be my next stop. I was invited to join my brother, Rev. Rob Schenck, in the High Court as a guest of the Justice. The day before, the Chief Justice, John Roberts had announced that the Court would hear a Massachusetts case related to my 1997 First Amendment case, Rev. Schenck V Pro-Choice, in which I successfully challenged a federal court order prohibiting pro-life sidewalk counseling. I did not know then that the two recent cases touching on the state of marriage in America would be read that very morning by the Chief Justice and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, both Catholics.
Justice Kennedy began in somber tones outlining the elements of the case: a woman who obtained a civil marriage in Canada to another woman sued after her companion’s death for inclusion in the federal estate tax exemption for married persons. At the time of Thea Speyer’s death, the two women lived together in New York, which by then registered same sex couples as married. Her surviving partner was denied the estate tax exemption due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 bi-partisan measure signed into law by President Clinton. Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as between a man and woman for purposes of federal law. The petitioner, Edie Windsor, sued the US government under the due process clause of the 5th Amendment. Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan found that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional (Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito filed strong dissents). Justice Kennedy stated for the majority -
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
In so stating, Justice Kennedy invalidated a legislative consensus defining marriage as a unique social institution reserved for two persons of different genders. The US Congress, and President Clinton, had sought to permanently recognize in law an obvious arrangement which coincides with essential human nature, assures the enduring bond between the sexes, and creates the best conditions for the pro-creation and development of children — who have a right to a mother and a father. The Act further had the de facto effect of recognizing that marriage between a man and woman long preceded the United States, and every state that has ever existed.
What was so deeply troubling about the opinion read by Justice Kennedy is the deprecatory language used to describe the purpose of the DOMA, which has the unmistakable effect of stigmatizing its proponents and defenders.
According to the Majority, the definition of marriage as only belonging to a woman and man is to “disparage and to injure” those who choose conjugal life with a member of their same sex. He further states that the defense of [traditional] marriage “tells those [same sex] couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…”
The language used to describe the defense of traditional marriage is derogatory and berating towards the communities within American society – religious, conservative, traditional – which hold to beliefs and practices that view marriage as belonging only to a man and woman who have the natural potential to bring into being new human lives. Outstanding among them is the Catholic Church.
In the document “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (in Rome) states, “a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of homosexuality is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.” Same-sex couples are not able to fulfill this vision of human destiny; only the complimentary sexes are capable of realizing this.
The document on homosexual persons goes on to say, “The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.” And yet, the document states emphatically, “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.” As to personal identity, the document observes that, “The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.” This is a beautiful and respectful understanding of the human person.
The condemnatory tone of the Supreme Court majority’s opinion seriously misrepresents the doctrine of the complementarity of the sexes in marriage and as such it is dangerous. While the ruling does not per se force any community, church or individual to accept same-sex marriage or to solemnize one, what it does is precisely what Justice Kennedy claims the law the Court struck does – it vilifies and stigmatizes defenders of heterosexual marriage as holding an undesirable doctrine that injures, demeans and humiliates their fellow citizens.
Vociferous language such as this might well be used to marginalize and possibly even penalize the Catholic Church and other faith communities for their beliefs, practices and advocacy of complementary-sex marriage. I for one am very concerned that accrediting and licensing agencies as well as school curricula and media outlets might co-opt this disparaging attitude and then discredit and disqualify schools, social service agencies and health care services administered by faith communities such as the Catholic Church.
Justice Kennedy and the majority were wrong to misrepresent the defense of heterosexual marriage as an indignity towards same-sex couples. If only he and Justice Sotomayor better understood their Church’s respect and benevolence towards homosexual persons, and its sublime teaching on marriage, his words might have been more temperate and his opinion more accurate.
The two-party system in American politics tends to divide the country in halves, creating a polarized electorate and an “us against them” way of thinking. Heavily biased news reporting seems to exacerbate the situation. Sadly, this sharp controversy sometimes enters the Church, igniting suspicions and pitting Catholics against each other. Partisan politics has tried to pit “social justice Catholics” against “right to life” Catholics, a strained and contrived division which actually doesn’t exist in Catholicism.
Catholic Social Doctrine embraces both issues of the sanctity of human life and of social justice. In Church teaching, these two concerns with human wellbeing are complimentary, not mutually exclusive; the one is reliant on the other. To listen to some political commentators (not to mention candidates), one must be chosen over the other. Not so. For Catholics, these two concepts, the sanctity of every human life and the just treatment of all people are inseparable, one necessary leads to the other; they are two parts of a whole.
This being the case, there is an essential progression beginning with the sanctity of human life and eventuating in matters of social justice such as fair wages, housing, education, health care, immigrant rights and so forth. In their instructive document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops write -
The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights-to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors-basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work-is universally binding on our consciences and may belegitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “[Each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services”.
Plainly stated, without the right to human life, there are no other human rights. What right to education does an aborted child have? What right to health care does a euthanized elder have? What right to mental health care does a suicide have?
The Bishops quote Blessed John Paul II, perhaps the foremost Christian philosopher of modern times -
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture-is false and illusory if the right tolife, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
All moral claims are not equal in magnitude – some are more important and imperative than others. For illustrative purposes, let’s make a comparison between the right to life, and the rights of immigrants. In its twin decisions, Roe V Wade and Doe V Bolton, the US Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is legal for nearly any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy. More than one million preborn children, and even some babies during delivery, are aborted every year. Imagine firing squads mounted on bluffs in the Southwest desert shooting Mexicans illegally crossing into the US and killing over a million a year. Who could legitimately champion the cause of undocumented aliens, arguing for education, health care and employment rights, while approving of such a lethal policy? Their legitimate human rights necessarily rest upon their fundamental right to their lives.
Catholics must take into consideration this hierarchy of morality when casting a vote for candidates who will shape the law and public policy. In the words of the Bishops -
Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:
The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.
The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.
The political divisions perpetrated by opposing parties may be incompatible with the unity within Catholicism, but so is moral equivalency. Catholics must respect the logical progression from the right to life to the other human and civil rights, while doing all they can to advance both.