Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Life’

Human Rights Failure at Fordham Law School

Monday, September 25th, 2017

The United Nations General Assembly has been holding its annual session, with this year’s theme being “Focusing on People: Striving for peace and a decent life on a sustainable planet.”

The notion of “focusing on people” naturally brings to mind the struggle to protect the fundamental human rights of everyone on our planet. Human rights, of course, is a highly fraught issue, particularly at the UN where it is frequently honored more in the breach than in the observance.

But you can always count on the representative of the Holy See to make sure that human rights are understood in their full and correct sense. Today, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher presented the Holy See’s contribution to the debate. In his remarks, he said the following:

Putting people always first means protecting, at every stage and in every circumstance, the dignity of the person, and its human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in a specific way, the rights to life and to freedom of religion from which all other rights flow and which are therefore the common foundation of the pillars of peace and security and integral human development. These two human rights are indivisible from those other rights and fundamental freedoms relating to a dignified spiritual, material and intellectual life for each citizen and for their families – among others, the right to food, the right to water, the right for housing, the right to a safe environment and the right to work.

One would think that this understanding of human rights, which is so deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, would resonate clearly with all Catholics and Catholic institutions, as well as all persons with good will. It is in keeping with the best aspects of the UN’s tradition, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tragically, Fordham Law School has apparently decided to reject that vision of human rights.

While Fordham University as a whole continues to assert its self-understanding as a “Catholic and Jesuit” institution, one would be very hard-pressed to find evidence that the Law School views itself that way, or that it sees value at all in Catholic legal tradition or jurisprudence.

The latest example of their abandonment of a Catholic understanding of law comes in a particularly egregious way. Last week, Fordham Law’s “Leitner Center for International Law and Justice” hosted a presentation by a representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, entitled “Using the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights”.

Now let’s be perfectly clear about something. The International Planned Parenthood Federation openly boasts in their 2015-2016 report of being the perpetrator of approximately 1.1 million abortions worldwide, and “counseling” and “consulting” with several million women about having an abortion. They brag about having provided almost 5 million “abortion-related services”. They distribute hundreds of millions of doses of chemical contraceptives that can cause further early abortions. They systematically work to undermine or eliminate legal protections for unborn children around the world, under the Orwellian guise of “reproductive rights” — a code word that includes legalized abortion.

In other words, IPPF is likely the single most prolific killer of human beings in the world — a massive violator of the fundamental right to life of every human. They work for the oppression of the weakest and most vulnerable among us and seek to eliminate legal protection of an entire class of human beings whose only offense is that they haven’t been born yet. It is an evil organization.

To celebrate IPPF in a forum dedicated to law and justice is perverse in the extreme. But this is not an isolated event by the “Center for International Law and Justice”. Its list of events and publications demonstrate a consistent advocacy for legalized abortion, with never a dissenting voice being heard. Nor is that an isolated event for the Law School in general, which encourages students to concentrate studies in “reproductive rights” but doesn’t offer a single class in Catholic legal studies.

Put aside for a moment the Catholic Church’s unequivocal and unbroken historical denunciation of abortion as an egregious violation of fundamental human rights. Forget for a moment the Jesuit Pope’s repeated condemnation of abortion and of the “ideological colonization” that seeks to impose Western values on developing countries. Clearly Fordham Law School cares little for these Catholic or Jesuit traditions.

All that’s necessary is to look at secular human rights sources. How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, which states plainly that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Or the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1959, which states as a foundational premise that “the child… needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”, and guarantees that “the child shall enjoy special protection… In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.” Or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, which reiterates the guarantee of legal protection before birth and says that “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.

How does killing 1.1 million unborn children a year fit into that tradition of “human rights” or “law and justice”?

The fact is that never, in any document or declaration, has the UN or the international community ever recognized abortion as a fundamental human right. Subsidiary UN agencies and committees have done so, under intense pressure from Western governments and abortion advocates, again under the misleading rubric of “reproductive rights”. But they have not yet been able to revise the traditional understanding of “human rights” to exclude unborn children.

The Holy See’s presentation at the UN was an uplifting and beautiful tribute to true human rights. Fordham Law School has chosen a different direction, one that betrays Catholicism, the Jesuit charism, and even secular human rights.

That is a catastrophic human rights failure.

Is There Room for Pro-Life Democrats?

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

One of the saddest developments in modern politics has been the degradation of the Democratic Party when it comes to issues involving protection of human life. The party once boasted of pro-lfe members like Sargent and Eunice Schriver, Bob Casey Sr., Tom Eagleton and Hubert Humphrey. But sadly, the institutional party’s leadership has now become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the abortion industry’s lobbying and political wing.

This development has been going on for many years. But it may have reached its point of no return. Last week, a controversy erupted because Sen. Bernie Sanders, the erstwhile presidential candidate, endorsed a candidate for local office in Nebraska who had previously voted for various pro-life bills. It’s worth noting, though, that recently the candidate had earned a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and had publicly bought into the “I’m Catholic but I won’t let that affect my vote on abortion” charade.

None of that mattered to the abortion industry, which brooks no dissent. The abortion fanatics at NARAL immediately yanked the chain on their Democratic Party subordinates. The new Chair of the party promptly fell into heel and pledged to enforce ideological purity: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable and should not chance city by city or state by state.” His rigidity was echoed by other significant Democratic Party officials, like Sen. Dick Durbin, who stated, “I know within the ranks of the Democratic Party there are those who see that differently on a personal basis, but when it comes to the policy position, I think we need to be clear and unequivocal.”

In other words, the official position of Democratic Party leaders has become “shut up about defending life or get out of the party”. Cardinal Dolan, speaking on behalf of the US Bishops, denounced this intolerant extremism:

The recent pledge by the Democratic National Committee chair to support only candidates who embrace the radical unrestricted abortion license is very disturbing. The Democratic Party platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat—indeed to be an American—requires supporting that extreme agenda. True solidarity with pregnant women and their children transcends all party lines. Abortion doesn’t empower women. Indeed, women deserve better than abortion. In the name of diversity and inclusion, pro-life and pro-‘choice’ Democrats, alike, should challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position.

This sad development doesn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention. Last year’s presidential ticket was ardently pro-abortion; the party in Congress has been in lock-step to continue funding Planned Parenthood, the most prolific abortionist in America; few leading Democrats in elected office at any level will identify themselves as pro-life or support pro-life legislation; and only a handful of Democratic Congressional representatives continues to support the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal funding for abortion on demand. The party’s platformlast year made its position perfectly clear:

We will fight Republican efforts to roll back the clock on women’s health and reproductive rights, and stand up for Planned Parenthood…. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured… We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.

The institutional leaders of the Democratic Party are woefully out of step with their own members, not to mention all other Americans. The remaining pro-life Democrats are rightly feeling excluded and unwanted, even though they make up a sizeable portion of the party. A recent poll shows that:

  • 61% of Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortions in the United States, including 39% of supporters of Hillary Clinton.
  • 59% of Americans say it is either an immediate priority (34%) or an important one (25%) to limit abortion to the first trimester, including 47% of Democrats.
  • Among those who call themselves “pro-choice”, 44% say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important, only 26% believe it should be available at any time in pregnancy, and 33% believe it should only be permitted the first trimester.
  • 59% of Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong, including 37% of Clinton supporters.

This is truly a tragic development for our society, and particularly for a party that has traditionally categorized itself as the voice for the little guy, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Instead, the Democratic Party has not only abandoned the most vulnerable human beings in our society, it has become actively hostile to them.

A Travesty of Justice in Arkansas

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Last night, the State of Arkansas executed Kenneth Williams, the fourth man they have executed in just over a week. The other three men’s names were Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams and Jack Jones Jr. Four other men were supposed to be killed, but they recieved stays of execution from courts.

All of these men were convicted of heinous murders and had served many years of incarceration awaiting execution. But the sole reason that the state scheduled so many executions over such a short period of time was that the state’s supply of one of the drugs used in its lethal injections expires at the end of April. In a statement calling for cancellation of the executions, Bishop Frank Dewane, Chair of the US Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, described this twisted scenario in very clear terms:

The schedule of executions was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment. The state’s supply of a sedative is expected to expire at the end of the month, and so, in a dark irony, a safeguard that was intended to protect people is now being used as a reason to hasten their deaths.

The family of Mr. Williams’ victim wrote a moving letter to the Governor, asking him to grant clemency. They related how they had arranged from Mr. Williams’ daughter and granddaughter to come and visit him, and asked to see him themselves so they could tell him that they forgive him — a request that had been denied. And they said this:

You often hear stories of men who go into prison and become bitter, angry and hateful. I do not believe Mr Williams is one of those men. He found God and I believe his redemption is genuine. Mr Williams is not the same person who killed my father on 4 October 1999. It is the changed man; the new Kenneth Williams that we are asking you to save.

Mr. Williams and Ledell Lee both received Communion before they were executed. Mr. Lee even opted for Communion instead of a last meal. There were significant doubts raised about the mental capacity of some of the men who were executed, and about the innocence of one of them.

None of that mattered. The courts stepped aside and the Governor ordered their execution before the artificial deadline set by the “sell by” date of the deadly drugs.

In his great encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope St. John Paul said this:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (56)

It is difficult to justify the necessity of any executions in the United States today. Our massive prison system is surely capable of detaining potentially dangerous offenders so that they no longer pose a threat to society. We are also well capable of removing convicted murderers from the general population for extended periods of time. A recent report stated that over 150,000 people are currently serving life sentences in the United States, with over 50,000 of them ineligible for parole. There are fewer than 3,000 people who have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution. It’s hard to see how the fast-track execution of these four men contributes anything positive to the common good, or any way in which it was necessary.

But even if one accepted the argument that the death penalty was justified in these cases, it is still hard to justify the circumstances of these executions. The State of Arkansas displayed a callous disregard for the dignity of those prisoners by treating them — and not just the deadly drugs — as objects to be used up and discarded prior to their expiration date.

The Culture of Death is already far advanced in the United States. Abortion is routinely done for any reason — including eliminating handicapped babies — and is applauded by many influential people in our society. Adherence to abortion on demand is being required as a mandatory condition for being an active member of the Democratic Party. Human trafficking for commercial purposes is permitted in the form of gestational surrogacy and assisted reproduction. And ideologues are seeking to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia as a way of disposing of lives they consider no longer worth living.

The death penalty is not in the same category as those offenses against human life. They are all intrinsically evil, while the Church still maintains that capital punishment may be morally justifiable under some limited circumstances. But that’s not ultimately what’s at issue here.

The dispensation of justice is a fearsome and profound matter, and should be treated with great caution and seriousness. It is appalling to turn it into a travesty where the executioner is heedlessly racing to beat the clock. Every human life, including that of convicted murderers, deserves more than that.

Judges — Not Tribunes of the People

Monday, February 6th, 2017

The President has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court. This has excited and inflamed many people, and the battle over his confirmation will be a wild one. Filibusters and nuclear options are all on the table, and it will be very interesting to see what happens.

One thing that has already become clear, though, is that a great many Americans have no idea what a judge is really supposed to do. It may sound too trite to even be mentioned, but the fundamental truth is that a judge’s job is to decide cases. Nothing more.

A great deal of the commentary that you will see from the opponents of Judge Gorsuch is startlingly uninformed. After the announcement, people were already labeling him as “dangerous” and “extreme”, even though they hadn’t heard of him five minutes before. They were portraying him as some kind of wild-eyed maniac who somehow had managed to get on the Circuit Court of Appeals. Never mind that he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate for that position and that he has served there for the last decade without the Republic collapsing or anyone moving to impeach him.

The reality is that these advocates couldn’t care less about who Judge Gorsuch is (a pillar of his church and community), what his background is (both Columbia College and Harvard Law School, a few years behind me), or his years of outstanding public service (clerking on the Supreme Court and in a high position in the Justice Department). The reality is that these advocates only care about having a Supreme Court Justice who will enact their favored policy positions from the bench. And based on their rhetoric, the only issue that really seems to matter to them is abortion — they desperately want to keep abortion on demand legal in this country, and they don’t care how many people they have to calumniate and destroy to do it.

This campaign against Judge Gorsuch also betrays a complete lack of understanding about what a judge is supposed to do, and it illustrates how important it is for a judge to have a coherent philosophy of the law and a firm grasp of the essential principles of the American constitutional order.

Judges are not supposed to be super-legislators who make sure that their favored policies are embodied in their interpretation of the Constitution and statutes. Policy-making is the province of Congress and the President — the political branches that are subject to oversight by the electorate. The only job of the Supreme Court, as anyone can see in Article III of the Constitution, is to decide cases and controversies that arise under the Constitution and laws as well as certain other specific cases (like disputes between states).

Our Supreme Court has been violating that limited role for a very long time now. At least since the Progressive Era and especially since the New Deal, the Court has seen itself almost as a body of Platonic Guardians who can discern new meanings in the Constitution that nobody saw before. This is the body of judges who had the gall to say in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood:

Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

What gaseous nonsense. I defy anyone to find even a hint of such a role for the Court in the Constitution or in any of the writings of the Founders of our Republic. Madison, Hamilton and Washington would be appalled by such a pronouncement.

This highlights the importance of a sound judicial philosophy and a coherent understanding of the structure and principles of our Constitution. Too many Justices are on the bench already who lack this, and instead are ideologues (like Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor), smart but lock-step liberals (Justice Kagan and Breyer) or vacuous pragmatists (Justice Kennedy). They appeal to a non-existent entity they call the “living constitution” and use that to make up new laws as they go along. If you want to see how it’s done, see Obergefell v. Hodges. And in doing so they hijack the proper roles that the Constitution gives to Congress and the President.

Judge Gorsuch, on the other hand, is an “originalist” and a “textualist”, which means that his philosophy is to discern the actual meaning that Constitutional provisions had when they were adopted and the actual meaning of the words that appear in laws enacted by Congress. Then, in the common law tradition, he would see his job as applying those principles to decide the actual case or controversy that is before him. No vaporous pronouncements about grand roles of the Court, and no discoveries of new rights and liberties hiding in invisible ink in the penubras, emanations and miasmas of the Constitution.

This restrained approach to the law is what actually scares the advocates who oppose the judge. They have become so used to judges enacting their favorite policies that they can’t imagine one who does otherwise. They are desperate to hold onto their policy gains, and they dread putting them before the elected branches for an open democratic debate.

In ancient Rome, there was an office called the “Tribune of the People”. He had the power to veto any law or government action, and he was absolutely unaccountable to anyone — nobody could overrule him or even lay hands on him. That is not what our Constitution envisions when it gives the Supreme Court its “judicial power”. Judges should decide cases and controversies, give effect to the laws that were actually enacted by “we the people”, and not set themselves up as unaccountable rulers.

Pro-Life Judges

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

I was recently asked my opinion of the list of the President-Elect’s potential Supreme Court nominees. I don’t have any personal knowledge of any of the people on the list, so I can’t really say anything useful about them. But I do have some observations about whether these people, or any judges, can be said to be “pro-life”.

In most cases, it is extraordinarily difficult to divine the personal views, and even at times the judicial philosophy, of lower-court judges based on isolated judicial opinions. Conscientious lower court judges are bound by precedent and are not free to overrule or widely diverge from it, even if they disagree with it. It is not good practice for lower court judges to openly criticize precedent. So even if a lower court judge rules against the “pro-life” side in a case, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about their personal views or their judicial philosophy. It could just mean that the judge is doing his job.

Plus, sitting judges generally avoid writing law review articles or giving substantive talks on issues, since that might be considered pre-judging cases. There is also a phenomenon in the legal world where a person who hopes to be appointed to the bench deliberately declines to speak openly about controversial topics, to preserve their confirmability. So most sitting judges are a bit Sphinx-like when it comes to their actual views.

It is also a fact that there is probably not more than a handful of sitting federal or state high court judges who are “pro-life” in the sense that I would use the term — namely, they believe that unborn human beings are “persons” within the meaning of the 14th Amendment and are entitled to full legal protection. No Justice of the Supreme Court has ever taken that position — not even Justices Scalia or Thomas — and I would doubt that any sitting state judge has done so either.

So I would be very reluctant to call any judge “pro-life”, lest the word lose its real meaning.

In the absence of such persons, our best bet at this point is a “constitutionalist” or “originalist”, who would hold with Justice Thomas (and the late Justice Scalia) that there is no right to abortion guaranteed in the Constitution, and that the issue is therefore reserved to the states to permit and regulate or prohibit. I am not satisfied with that view, but I think it is just about as good as we can get in the current legal climate.

My general impression, from what I have read, is that the people on the President-Elect’s list would likely fit that description. Since I have no confidence whatsoever that the President-elect would recognize constitutionalism if it hit him over the head, I take some comfort in the probability that he is getting advice from the Federalist Society, which is committed to that view of the law.

Of course, one never knows what a person will do once they’re on the Court (as we have seen from Warren, Brennan, Souter, Kennedy, O’Connor, Roberts and many, many more examples). The Court is generally reluctant to overturn major precedents, and instead prefers to adjust or adapt them (see Casey). So I am not particularly sanguine about any reversal of Roe/Casey in the near term. I think that if a couple of constitutionalist Justices are appointed, we might get a ruling that backs away from the expansive application of Casey’s “undue burden” standard that we saw used to devastating effect in Whole Women’s Health to strike down Texas’ health and safety regulations for abortion clinics. That would be a tremendous accomplishment in itself because it would open up the field for further state restrictions, and it could lay the groundwork for an eventual direct attack on Roe/Casey.

One thing that I particularly fear is a sense of pro-life over-confidence that might lead to a premature assault on Roe/Casey. Pushing flawed and risky cases too fast (e.g., heartbeat bills) could produce a disastrous reaffirmation of Roe/Casey, perhaps with an even stronger constitutional justification based on the (spurious) idea that the Equal Protection Clause requires abortion rights to ensure the ability of women to fully participate in society. That is a position long proposed by Justice Ginsberg, and given the tenor of recent Court decisions like Obergefell, it may appeal to a majority of other justices as well.

At this point, I’m more concerned with the Executive Branch appointments, since that’s where most of the action is right now — regulations, enforcement actions, etc. I also fear that too much attention will be paid to DC, and not enough to the states where the pro-death movement will be very active in expanding abortion rights and promoting assisted suicide. State legislatures and courthouses are the battlefront right now, and our movement needs to focus on them, and less on crystal-ball gazing about potential judicial appointments.

Love for Animals, Danger for Humans

Friday, October 9th, 2015

I had the pleasure of attending a very interesting lecture at Fordham Law School, entitled “The Law, Science, and Ethics Behind the Nonhuman Rights Project and Its Struggle to Achieve Fundamental Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals”. The principal presenter was an attorney, the leader of that project, who deeply loves animals.  He has brought numerous lawsuits attempting to persuade courts to declare chimpanzees to be legal persons, and thus entitled to rights and protection under the law.

This subject is particularly interesting to me, and I am completely in support of the argument that we have a moral obligation to love and treat animals humanely.  I am a vegetarian, and I have very serious moral objections to the way that industrial farming treats animals.  Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, was very firm in insisting on the immorality of animal cruelty and the duty to treat animals humanely.

But even more important to me is the issue of legal personhood.  In the law, only those entities that are deemed “persons” possess the ability to assert rights, duties, freedoms and immunities that are legally enforceable.  In essence, the law will only recognize you and defend your rights if it considers you to be a “person”.

Under current American law, legal personhood is recognized for human beings (with an important exception I’ll discuss in a second) and entities that are created under the law and called “juridical persons” (e.g., governments, corporations, partnerships, and other associations).  No American law has ever recognized legal personhood in non-human animals.

Unfortunately, the two most notorious Supreme Court decisions in history both specifically denied personhood to a class of human beings.  The Dred Scott decision held that blacks were not persons under the law and thus “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” — so they could be held as chattel slaves.  The Roe v. Wade decision similarly held that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn” — and thus they could be killed with impunity.  An equally appalling New York State Court of Appeals decision, Byrn v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, also specifically denied that unborn human beings are legal persons and thus have no rights that are bound to be respected by those lucky enough to be already born.   

That brings us to the lawsuits that seek to have chimps defined as legal “persons”.  It would be easy to view these actions as ludicrous, and I imagine that most people would dismiss them as such.  As a legal matter, I believe that the cases are meritless.  Their theory rests on the inconsistency of the law recognizing some humans as persons, while denying that status to others — which is true, but irrelevant when it comes to animals, which are, by definition, non-human.  And it relies heavily on an eighteenth-century English case that decided that slavery was not recognized under English common law.  But if you cite the common law as authority, you have to accept it whenever it’s contrary to your position too.  And English and American common law — as well as statutory and constitutional law — have never treated animals as persons, and always considered them to be property.  Wishful thinking and good intentions can’t make the law into something that it has never been.

But an unconvincing legal theory is not the most dangerous thing about these lawsuits, and the entire effort to have animals recognized as legal persons.  The animal personhood effort is premised on the fundamentally flawed idea that there is no relevant moral difference between humans and other animals — a rejection of “human exceptionalism”, which has been an axiom of law and society throughout history.  Instead, they seek to define personhood by reference to characteristics such as whether the animal is “autonomous and self-determining”, or whether they “possess the complex cognitive abilities sufficient for personhood” (to quote from the chimp’s court filings).

But these are inherently arbitrary.  Who decides what is sufficient, and what is not, and by what standard?  Do we draw the line at the “complex cognitive abilities” of chimps, or at dolphins, cats, dogs, chickens, insects, etc.?  Who is to say what degree of  “autonomous and self-determining” is enough to grant rights, and when it is not?  How an anyone tell, without any bright line standard — such as the obvious difference between the human species and an animal species?

Even aside from the legal chaos and arbitrariness that would result, there’s an even greater danger — if that’s the standard for determining personhood for animals, what if the same standard is applied to humans?

We know that the courts have no problem deciding that unborn children aren’t persons.  But what about newborn babies, who clearly are not “autonomous and self-determining” yet, and haven’t developed to the point where they “possess complex cognitive abilities”?  How about those who are in a permanent vegetative state?  Or advanced Alzheimers patients?  Will they be defined as non-persons, so that they have no protection under the law — and they can be treated as property to be mined for their organs,  or killed if they become too expensive to maintain?

This is not an idle set of questions, or a speculative “slippery slope”.  There are people, like the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who would gladly exclude from legal personhood those humans who lack sufficient “complex cognitive abilities” to satisfy his personal standards.

When law is made, laudable motives are not sufficient.  It’s wonderful that the Nonhuman Rights Project loves animals, and we absolutely need to grant greater legal protection to our fellow creatures. But the unintended consequences of legal changes must also be considered.  And the inevitable result of the animal personhood legal theories would be dangerous — and deadly — to humans.

The Politics of Principle

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last five years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

What Shall We Do to Build a Culture of Life?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

(I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month.  Here is the text of my talk.)

When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah.  The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?”  And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question.  “What shall we do?”

In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty.  But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.

But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.

To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.

Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception.  This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”.  Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life.  Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence.  Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.

The second task is prayer.  We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust.  We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives.  We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community.  For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this).  We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill.  Life is a great gift!  And we should celebrate that in our prayer.

The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable.  For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion.  There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life.  We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally  to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.

A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state.  We already have 110,000 abortions a year.  We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life!  But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions.  This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally.  The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.

I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion.  The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing.  Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair.  Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process.  Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves.  There is always hope and healing available.

The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones.  Our families should be a school of life!  So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages.  Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life.  In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life.  So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you.  But every one of us can do something.  Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.

At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission.  We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person.  By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing.  By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs.  By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.

And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death.  By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land.  We ask the question, “What shall we do?”  And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.

The Politics of Principle

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last four years.  It was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

A Tragic Polarization

Monday, January 28th, 2013

The annual March for Life was held on Friday, in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.  Several hundred thousand people joined in the largest annual civil rights demonstration in America, to witness to the cause of human life and its importance to our society.

After the March, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion about the pro-life cause at the National Review Institute’s Future of Conservatism Summit.  It was a very interesting conversation, covering topics such as health care, pregnancy resource centers, and the cultural and political trends in our nation.  (It was broadcast live on CSPAN, and you can watch the video here).

The audience was very appreciative of the panel, and I got a good deal of positive feedback afterwards. That’s encouraging, because there has been a good bit of talk since the election about ejecting pro-lifers from the conservative movement — which I believe would be a disaster for American society.

But the positive reaction of the conservative audience also reinforced in my mind a sad realization:  at this point in American history, it is inconceivable that I would be invited to have the same discussion at a conference of political liberals or progressives.

It has been made abundantly clear that pro-lifers are really not welcome any more in the liberal wing of politics or, indeed, in most of the Democratic Party.  The platform of the national Democratic Party stated that the party opposed any restrictions on abortion; a prominent leader of the Party in New York has announced that one cannot be a Democrat without being “pro-choice”; and the President ran an aggressively and adamantly pro-abortion political campaign last year.   Although there are some notable exceptions, the pro-life Democrat is becoming an endangered species.

This makes no sense to me.  Life is not a partisan issue — it is a question of equal justice under the law and fundamental human rights.  It is the ultimate issue of defending the little guy — as little a guy as you can get.  And traditionally, liberalism/progressivism and the Democratic Party have styled themselves as the defenders of the little guys — workers, immigrants, ethnic minorities.  They were the party of Al Smith and Sargent Shriver — two great Catholic gentlemen who were unabashed progressives and Democrats.    Even as late as the 1970’s, prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson were openly pro-life.

I understand how and why this happened — it has a lot to do with the identification of abortion and sexual liberty as the centerpiece of modern feminism.  But it has polarized our nation and politics, and it is a disaster for our society.

Last week, the President delivered his inaugural address.  In that speech, he spoke about his and his party’s concern for defending human rights by alluding to Seneca Falls (the birthplace of  women’s rights), Selma (a crucible for the civil rights movement) and Stonewall (the origin of the “gay rights” cause).

Sadly, he had no time to mention the human rights of the unborn.  He could easily have done so, by a simple allusion to the Dred Scott decision, which excluded an entire class of human beings from the protection of the law.

Unfortunately, in our sad polarized politics, the liberal/progressive movement, much of the Democratic Party, and the current Administration believe, as did the misguided Supreme Court in Dred Scott, that unborn children have no rights that are bound to be respected by those lucky enough to have been born.