The Supreme Court’s minor mistakes have few systemic consequences. But when the Supremes make a big mistake, the error tends to seep throughout the entire political process, poisoning everything in its path.
That was what happened with the Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which intensified the passions and accelerated the dynamics that led to the Civil War—and to 600,000 Americans killing each other. That was what happened when the Court got it wrong again in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that declared segregated public facilities constitutional: three-and-a-half generations of American politics were distorted by a fierce struggle between segregationists and integrationists, with the Democratic Party held hostage to its fever-swamp wing.
And that is what happened with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand across the country. Ever since, the abortion issue has been the most bitterly contested in our public life, and Roe has distorted everything from free speech to religious freedom to health care legislation (dental insurers are being queried by federal regulators as to whether their coverage includes abortion—dental insurers!). Those distortions confirm that the Court got it fundamentally wrong in 1973.
At this critical moment in history, there are two social justice priorities for the Catholic Church in the United States: the defense of life at all stages and in all conditions, and the defense of religious freedom for all. During this Fortnight for Freedom, in which the U.S. bishops are calling all Catholics to pray and work for religious freedom, it’s important to reflect on the linkage between these two great causes. As the language of the First Amendment to the Constitution indicates, religious freedom in the United States has always been understood as one of a cluster of fundamental freedoms—spheres of free thought and action essential to individual liberty and civil society.
Address delivered on December 22, 1940, by Msgr. Fulton Sheen Nothing in all the world is as relentless in unmasking a false way of life as war. It strips men and institutions bare and exposes them in their naked reality. It is easy to believe in any theory until it is subjected to the acid test of experience. Just as some children will not accept their mother’s caution that they must not eat too many bananas, but learn the lesson the hard way by becoming so sick that they can never look at a banana again, so too the world has tasted the bitter dregs of its own philosophy and learned by tragedy what it refuses to learn by counsel. In a false peace a false philosophy survives; but when war empties its seven vials of wrath upon the world, spurious faiths dissolve and Babels crumble. This World War is doing that very thing. It is shattering our illusions, and principally two of them which have become assumptions of our modern life: Firstly that man is naturally good and indefinitely progressive; and secondly that social perfection is attainable in this world.
Address delivered on January 3, 1943, by Msgr. Fulton Sheen
This year it is my privilege to address you on the subject of the Crisis in Christendom. Naturally, it will concern itself with this awful cataclysm which has brought the world to the edge of a great abyss. There are two ways of looking at this war: One as a journalist and the other as a theologian. The journalist tells us what happens; the theologian tells us not only why it happens, but also what matters. If we look at this war through the eyes of a journalist or a commentator, it will be only a succession of events without any remote cause in the past, or any great purpose in the future. But if we look at the war through the eyes of God, then the war will not be meaningless, though we may not presently see its meaning. It may very well be a purposeful purging of the world’s evil that the world may have a rebirth of freedom under His Holy Law, for "Every human path leads on to God, He holds a myriad finer threads than gold, And strong as holy wishes, drawing us With delicate tension upward to Himself." (E. C. Stedman, Protest of Faith).
Most Americans haven’t the foggiest idea that a quasi-Stalinist, violently anti-Catholic regime once existed on our southern borders. Those who don’t know how bad Mexico was in the late 1920s are about to learn, though: at least those who see For Greater Glory, a recently-released movie about the Cristero War, a passionate (and bloody) defense of Catholicism that’s remembered today, if at all, because of Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory.
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I can say, with utter conviction, that they are not here by accident. They are here because God wants them here.
--Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien
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