Father Paul’s blog
A Set of Supreme Victories
I was once again in the United States Supreme Court on its last day of the term for the reading of the opinion in the so-called “Hobby Lobby” case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc). Friends of our mission in Washington, the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, challenged the so-called “HHS mandate” which threatened to punish private business owners who did not pay for abortion inducing drugs for their employees. Basing their claim against the government on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, they insisted they had a constitutionally recognized right to refuse to do this based on their religious and moral beliefs. The Court agreed, firmly rebuking the government and calling its claim that religious business owners must choose between owning and operating a business and their religion, “dangerous”. Justice Alito wrote the opinion for the Court’s majority and read it sternly and adamantly from the bench. Since there was no argument in the Court, it became a “teaching moment” with scores of young law students who attended. It was a great day for religious liberty and for respect for human life. In representing the Green’s convictions, Justice Alito stated emphatically, “killing an embryo is wrong”.
The Court’s action in upholding religious freedom rights followed on its unanimous decision to strike down restrictions on pro-life speech at abortion sights in Massachusetts the previous week. In that case, McCullen v. Coakley, the Court found that a 35 foot “speech free zone” in front of abortion clinics, (in which only proponents of abortion were allowed to advocate for their views), was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Citing my own US Supreme Court case, Schenck v. Pro-Choice, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the unanimous Court, states –
In the context of petition campaigns, we have observed that “one-on-one communication” is “the most effective, fundamental, and perhaps economical avenue of political discourse.” Meyer v. Grant, 486 U. S. 414, 424 (1988). See … Schenck, supra, at 377 (invalidating a “floating” buffer zone around people entering an abortion clinic partly on the ground that it prevented protestors “from communicating a message from a normal conversational distance or handing leaflets to people entering or leaving the clinics who are walking on the public sidewalks”). And “handing out leaflets in the advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint . . . is the essence of First Amendment expression”; “[n]o form of speech is entitled to greater constitutional protection.” See … Schenck, supra, at 377 (“Leafletting and commenting on matters of public concern are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment”).
It was twenty-four years from the time my brother and I and three others challenged the federal ban on speech at abortion clinics by passing out bibles with a hopeful message, a pamphlet called “Peace with God”, and helpful referrals for medical, housing and financial support, to women and their companions. My case lasted 7 years; I spent a month in federal prison, a year and half under house arrest and it cost us $778,000 before the Supreme Court voted 8-1 in my favor. We did that because we were, and are, convinced God is the author of life, and every human life is precious to him!
In the long course of the history of restoring the basic and essential human right to live, this case and last Monday’s Court will be embedded in American history.
A culture of disrespect and violence
The news is filled with reports of horrendous violence involving perpetrators who seethe with malice towards “classes” or “categories” of persons such as “women”, “Jews”, “rich”, “homeless” and so forth. Just this past week we had a young California man commit a mass murder of six innocent and unwary young victims, an expectant young mother stoned to death in Pakistan and the young mother of a newborn in Sudan is condemned to death for entering a Christian marriage.
What each of these seemingly disparate travesties share in common is the profound disrespect for a human person. In each case, the victim is considered something else, something less, than a fully human person. In the mass murder in California, the killer professed contempt for young women, particularly sorority women, In the Pakistani stoning, her killers saw her as “dishonorable”. In Sudan, the condemned woman will be punished for breaking with the official religion and marrying the wrong kind of man.
What is so terribly wrong in each incident is the failure to recognize the victim as a person, possessing the inherent right and entitled to the very same respect that is demanded by the perpetrators. This recognition begins with acknowledging that every human being is a person, created in God’s image and after his likeness (God is unique and so every human being is unique, unrepeatable and irreplaceable). To purposefully and deliberately kill another person is to destroy someone unique and invaluable. It is also an act of blasphemy – defacing and destroying the Imago Dei, the image and likeness of God.
As society declines into an agnostic, secularist and utilitarian ideology, respect for the unique and invaluable quality of each human being, each person, also declines. In 1973 the US Supreme Court declared that preborn (and later babies at birth), are “not persons”, more recently willful suicide (self-murder) has been approved and now the “personhood” of dementia sufferers is being questioned. This will inevitably lead to more killing. It is essential that Christians and all conscientious citizens do all they can to resist this downward slide and insist that every human person is entitled to respect and dignity.