Today, 90 undergraduates, accompanied by Fr. Killian and Fr. Jean Luc and other members of our campus ministry team, joined thousands of others in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. In addition to our students, the Archabbot and monks from the Archabbey and our seminarians also traveled to our nation’s capital to support the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. We are very proud of the strong presence that Saint Vincent has today on the National Mall. Our prayers are with them as we collectively attempt to move our nation toward a deeper respect for all human life, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently described as civil rights.
Like the 1963 March on Washington in which Dr. King refused “to believe that [our country’s] bank of justice is bankrupt . . . [and demanded for all] the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” we march in the same place and in the same spirit for those individuals who have no voice. We march to “be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children . . . will be able to join hands and sing . . . Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Unfortunately, on Friday, we suffered a setback on the path to fulfilling this dream of civil rights for all human life. President Obama ruled that health insurance plans must cover birth control, even when the insurance is provided by religious institutions that find birth control contrary to their moral teaching (see, for example, the January 20 edition of The New York Times “Obama Reaffirms Insurers Must Cover Contraception”). In short, this ruling forces religious institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to provide services with which it morally disagrees. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Church-related organizations are expressing outrage. Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated that the government’s ruling is “a compromise of our religious liberty” and that “the government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs.” Make no mistake; this is a civil rights issue.
Ben Dunlap, President of Wofford College, eloquently tells the story of a passionate Hungarian businessman, Sandor Teszler, who with his family came to the United States from Europe after World War II (see http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ben_dunlap_talks_about_a_passionate_life.html ). Teszler invented a process called double-knit and chose to put his new factory in the most segregated county of South Carolina. He was committed to having an integrated workforce in this highly segregated region. Teszler saw the brutality and immorality of racism and ethnic cleansing close-up during his family’s flight, first from the Nazis, and then the Communists. He was committed to see this end in his newly adopted homeland. Teszler confronted government officials who wanted to use the force of law to uphold segregation. Fortunately, Teszler had the liberty to establish an integrated factory and, in a triumph of moral courage, he integrated the textile industry.
Sandor Tezler was a business owner with the liberty to build his factory on the moral and ethical principles he cherished. He changed America for the better, making it a more just, free, and secure community. Our religious institutions deserve that same liberty. These institutions, founded on moral principles established over millennia, should not be forced to violate those principles on the short-sighted whim of the majority in power at the present time. The right to life and liberty for all human beings is not a health-care issue; it is a civil rights issue.
Dr. John Smetanka,
Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January, 2008.