Jewish World Review June 18, 1999 /4 Tamuz 5759
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.''
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
06/15/99: Speaker Hastert wants reinforcements