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Jewish World Review June 18, 1999 /4 Tamuz 5759

Cal Thomas

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Unequal justice under a bad law --
THE SUPREME COURT'S RULING Monday that Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and other pro-life activists must pay about $600,000 in fines and attorneys fees for blockading New York City abortion clinics 10 years ago may be cause for the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund to celebrate, but the ruling could come back to haunt them and other liberal causes.

The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), passed in 1994 by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president, unfairly singles out a single issue -- abortion -- and makes certain forms of protest against it a federal crime. Yet no federal restrictions were placed on blocking the South African Embassy in Washington during anti-apartheid demonstrations. If such a law had been in place during the civil rights movement, owners of segregated lunch counters could have sued for damages to their businesses by black customers who were refused service and would not leave. Vietnam war protesters might have been fined for occupying government buildings or sitting in at Dow Chemical, a company that made napalm used in bombs that burned the skin off human beings, as certain abortion procedures burn the skin off unborn babies.

State and local trespass laws are sufficient to deal with the occupation of private and public property, but because the Democratic Congress wanted to make a statement about abortion, it unwisely built a federal legal fence around abortion clinics designed to keep people who regard the procedure as murder at a distance.

Pro-choicers should be concerned about the future. Suppose Roe vs. Wade is eventually overturned. Suppose that a pro-life Congress and a pro-life president restrict pro-choicers from civil disobedience against new abortion restrictions. The courts and Congress might see a precedent in what pro-choicers did with FACE.

Nonviolent civil disobedience is part of America's heritage. It is a way to heighten awareness on issues with a moral component. When citizens observe people willing to give up their freedom, sometimes their lives, for a cause they regard as just, it can lead to changed attitudes and then changed laws.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a proponent of civil disobedience. He frequently wrote and spoke of the proper response to unjust laws. In "I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World,'' James M. Washington, editor (Harper San Francisco, 1992), King noted: "Nonviolence offers a method by which (people) can fight evil with which they cannot live. It offers a unique weapon which, without firing a single bullet, disarms the adversary. It exposes his moral defenses, weakens his morale and at the same time works on his conscience.''

No wonder pro-choicers had to shut Terry and his colleagues down. He was stealing their weapons.

Elsewhere, King noted there are just and unjust laws. What's the difference? "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law .... Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregationist statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.''

The same could be said of those who are segregated from the human family (the unborn) or by the content of their ideology (pro-life civil disobeyers).

King also observed that, "from a purely moral point of view, an unjust law is one that is out of harmony with the moral law of the universe.'' But what if people are largely out of harmony with such a moral law? How do you appeal to conscience when, for example, the economy is all that seems to matter?

You may not agree with the substance of the arguments or the behavior of groups such as Operation Rescue. You may feel it is important to be cautious in actions of civil disobedience, so that they do not encourage others to violence. Yet singling out a radical band of pro-lifers for special penalties is unjust. The issue should be revisited not only by a Republican Congress, but also by those who successfully used civil disobedience to advance their causes. If not, the tables may be turned when their "out-of-favor'' issues are questioned.


06/15/99: Speaker Hastert wants reinforcements
06/11/99: Clues for the clueless
06/09/99: Victory? What victory?
06/07/99: Too good for prime time
06/03/99:The Creator and Commencement
05/28/99: The Cox Committee Report
05/26/99: 'A turning point for our country'
05/24/99: Barak is not Israel's savior
05/19/99: It takes a leader
05/17/99: Questions for Gov. Bush and the others
05/12/99: OAF-ish behavior explains U.S. mistakes
05/07/99: Israel's high-stakes election
05/04/99: Jeb Bush chooses to save kids, not institutions
04/26/99: Surrendering our civilization
04/26/99: War abroad, war at home
04/22/99: Those wild and crazy (Democrat) tax-cutters
04/16/99: Bubba’s contemptible behavior
04/14/99:Elizabeth Dole's choice
04/09/99: The taxman cometh
03/30/99: Human-rights terror in China
03/25/99: Yasser Arafat:
bad cop, worse cop
03/23/99: Bubba’s multiplied lies
03/18/99: Reinventing AlGore
03/16/99:Americans get bull while China shops
03/12/99: Bill Lan Lee: Flouting the law
03/09/99: Don't worry about your child, be happy
03/08/99:The ‘lady' is a tramp
03/04/99: Proving myself to President Clinton
02/24/99: New slaves to a new slavery
02/22/99: Character-plus
02/19/99: GOP losers tell winner how to win
02/17/99: The Clinton legacy
02/10/99: More a man, less a president

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