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BY PAUL KENGOR
When Rev. Jerry Falwell died recently we were told — by the
secular-minded — that his greatest sin was blurring the lines of separation
between church and state, of “shoving” his personal faith and values down the
throats of everyone else.
While Falwell certainly had his faults, the reality is that
he and many of his persuasion — including Pat Robertson, a former Democrat —
were a reaction, a response to what they perceived as an assault on the values
they held dear, a consequence of the absence of faith in politics and culture.
Falwell and his supporters saw what happened when they
politely did as they were told by secularists, when they put their tails
between their legs and whimpered out of the public square. When they quietly
crawled home, they ceded the culture to secularists who were often contemptuous
of their views.
In truth, Falwell’s Moral Majority was tired of having the
values of secularists shoved down their throat.
Why mention this now? Because yet another example of this
aggressive secularism occurred in recent weeks in Philadelphia, the July 4
birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, when secular values were again
thrust upon religious-minded citizens who, in turn, were expected to politely
express their misgivings in private consultation with a minister or around the
dinner table or, better, not at all.
On June 8, by a vote of 9-8, the Philadelphia City Council
took an extraordinary step, approving a resolution declaring Philadelphia a
The resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds
Brown, and drafted with the assistance of Planned Parenthood, declared the city
an “advocate for the advancement of women’s rights and equality, and in
particular women’s reproductive rights and freedom.”
“The City needs to pride itself,” explained the resolution,
by “officially express[ing] its support for a woman’s right to choose.”
The gesture contradicted a much more thoughtful and
certainly longer-lasting resolution affirmed by infinitely wiser legislators in
the city two centuries ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
That word “life” — the first of those three unalienable
rights recorded by Jefferson and borrowed from a Lockean tradition with far
deeper roots than Roe v. Wade and modern feminism — also gets prominent billing
in the U.S. Constitution, notably the 14th Amendment, which states, “nor shall
any state deprive any person of life.”
Thankfully, many Philadelphians remain true to those
timeless principles articulated in their historic city. Indeed, Brown
acknowledged that many residents of Philadelphia would not describe themselves
as pro-choice, but considered that fact immaterial to the larger cause: “It’s a
democracy,” she said, meaning that a majority vote by city council would decide
what was right — a curious position for a council that usually speaks of
tolerance and diversity like two legs of a holy trinity.
So, there it was. It was done. “Now Phila is officially
‘pro-choice,’” proclaimed the headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer the next
day. The proclamation by the City Council left pro-lifers like me in a bind:
Should I lay down and roll over and accept this latest affront to my moral
values, continuing to go to Philadelphia twice a year for business, where I
spend my money at hotels, restaurants, on cabs and all else? Should my wife and
I continue plans for that home-school trip to educational sites in the city?
Should we take our four children there? Why should I tolerate this?
Yet, apparently, that was the expected course for folks like
Fortunately, pro-lifers in Philadelphia decided they weren’t
going to put up with this latest assault. Spearheaded by Cardinal Justin
Rigali, who became the public face of opposition to the resolution, they fought
Cardinal Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, immediately
issued a statement denouncing the “divisive and erroneous label” that the
council had “forced upon” the city’s citizens.
“I reject the resolution because so many heroic efforts are
made continually to safeguard children from the evil of abortion,” said the
cardinal. “In a city where so many people vigorously defend life at every
stage, proclaiming Philadelphia ‘pro-choice’ is inconsistent with reality. It
unfairly saddles those who support life at all stages with this shameful
Said Cardinal Rigali, “Everyone deserves to be born and
These words ring especially true in Philadelphia right now.
The city’s embattled struggle to protect life of late is widely known around
the country, as it sets the national pace for homicide rates — an irony not
lost on Cardinal Rigali.
“Philadelphia is experiencing homicide at a record rate,” he
noted. “Now is not the time to affirm the false choice of procured abortion.”
For a city hoping not to be known for a culture of death,
this abortion resolution would seem at the very least a poor PR move by the
Quite the contrary, the sponsor of the resolution had the
city’s image in mind: “At the end of the day, we decide what we want the city
to look like and be about,” said Brown in urging her colleagues to support her
action. “We as council members will speak to our hearts and our minds and vote
They did just that, narrowly passing the resolution by one
vote, with even the city council’s preponderance of pro-choicers ambivalent,
understanding that it was unnecessary and inappropriate for council to wade
into such a controversial issue completely unrelated to its jurisdiction.
This time, however, the puppies didn’t saunter home after a
scolding and smack on the backside. They barked. And, lo and behold, they won.
On June 14, the City Council rescinded its week-old
proclamation by a vote of 13-4. Councilman Jim Kenney, one of those
pro-choicers who ultimately reversed his vote, confessed that he was angry with
himself for not abstaining previously: “It’s not something I think we should
have forced on the public at large.” Amen.
Cardinal Rigali expressed appreciation that the City Council
paused to reconsider the sensitivities of all Philadelphians. And even Brown
seemed penitent, “Regret is too strong a word,” she conceded. “I have learned
as an enlightened pro-choice advocate that there may have been other ways to
make my position known.”
Of course, Brown’s repentance had its limits: It was not
enough to switch her vote.
Naturally, Planned Parenthood was angry — unfazed in the
moral certainty of the righteousness of its cause — and vowed not to give up
Dayle Steinberg, president and chief executive officer of
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, who deemed Cardinal Rigali’s
application of the word “homicide” as “shameful,” remarked: “It’s unfortunate
that there couldn’t be an agreement to support the rights of women and families
in Philadelphia.” For Planned Parenthood, it is not enough that the women of
Philadelphia already have the “right” to legalized abortion; rather, the entire
City of Philadelphia must go officially on the record in declaring their city
“pro-choice.” As for those residents who are uncomfortable with the label, too
bad — swallow hard.
Ultimately, real rights, genuine freedom, the first of all
freedoms — the right to life — triumphed in Philadelphia, shining through in a
declaration of true independence, one to keep in mind next week as the city and
the nation, on July 4, celebrates and affirms those eternal, unalienable rights
resolved in that part of the world 231 years ago.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.
His upcoming biography of Ronald Reagan adviser William P. Clark,
The Judge, will be released this fall by Ignatius Press.