In 1988, I wrote a letter to a Phoenix newspaper criticizing a pro-life protester for the lack of concern he had with breaking the law and vandalizing clinics. "Once you have reached the rationalization that your cause is so just that you can break the law," I wrote, "you are one step away from the rationalization of killing a doctor to save 5,000 unborn babies." Several weeks later, the newspaper printed the protester's response. He wrote, "We are simply practicing civil disobedience in the spirit of Martin Luther King." He went on to explain that murder violated the laws of God, which transcended the laws of man. Now, the shooting of doctors has become almost commonplace.
Pro-life groups are not alone, of course. Animal liberators have bombed, made threats against researchers and trashed numerous laboratories for the precious lives of lab-mice. And Tucsonans are very familiar with the protests of Earth First!ers who vandalize buildings, spike trees and chain themselves to save the planet. The rationalization of the protester is always the same: "We are practicing civil disobedience in the spirit of Martin Luther King." But as we celebrated Martin Luther King's legacy last weekend, I was left to wonder if this is what he meant by civil disobedience.
King did break the law by marching in Birmingham, Alabama without a parade permit and wrote about his thoughts on civil disobedience in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail": "In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law . this would lead to anarchy. One who breaks the law must do so openly, lovingly . and with a willingness to accept the penalty . to rouse the conscience of the community over its injustice." This is what Paul Hill did by shooting two in Florida to awaken us to the horrors of abortion, and anyone who has seen his smiling face on TV knows he did so openly and lovingly.
But King specified that one must break unjust laws. Not allowing blacks to protest was unjust, so they could break that law in good conscience. A German could house a Jew in Nazi Germany, King pointed out, because the law prohibiting it was unjust. But laws forbidding murder and vandalism are just laws and I think Paul Hill and animal liberators would agree with me. After all, it is the law of murder that these very groups are trying to uphold.
It may also seem a bit hypocritical of us to condemn those who would kill to prevent what they see as murder while we praise our forefathers for taking up arms to protest high taxes. After all, if you truly believe a fetus or a mouse is equal to a human, you should do everything within your power to stop their slaughter. But this country was formed with the legal, peaceful means to change government. Under totalitarian rule, people have no other means to change government except violent overthrow. In this country, where we have the right to protest and speak, there is no excuse. The only reason pro-lifers and animal liberators feel they must kill and vandalize is because they have protested, and they have spoken and this country doesn't agree with them.
I suppose I will be accused of harping on a few extremists of these groups. Sure, when a pro-lifer carries a fetus for us to look at, they aren't murdering anybody. To me, this isn't any worse than carrying a jar of tonsils, but to the anti-abortionist, this is a human being. It is the same thing as if a protester dug up Ted Bundy and paraded him around the Capitol Building to show us the horrors of the death penalty. And I suppose dumping blood and paint on people who wear minks isn't murder either. But in the midst of all this fanaticism and blatant disregard for law, they should not be surprised when one of their members picks up a gun.
But worse than any of this is that when a protester does kill a doctor, so many protesters are unwilling to condemn it. I know the media is broadcasting the most extreme members of these groups Ä but this isn't one or two people, there's usually enough supporters to gather around with picket signs. And this isn't one minister who condones this, but several, including a high-level bishop in the Catholic Church and one minister who actually pulled the trigger. Then there are the more sensible ones who will make statements like, "We don't condone killing, but." Ä always with the "but" Ä "it's nothing compared to abortion doctors." And even prominent conservatives such as William F. Buckley have written columns that don't condemn the killings, but essentially say "Sure, pro-lifers have killed people, but lots of people have killed people. Why are we making such a big deal out of this?"
It shouldn't be surprising that such an alarming number of protesters find it difficult to denounce the killings outright. They are one step away from it themselves. After all, they are trying to stop murder, and blocking a clinic or stalking abortion patients seems a pale crime in comparison. And if one death can save thousands, it seems a logical step.
But if we can't condemn this kind of protest, even in the case of murder, then I am going to make another bold prediction. We will have to live with every group that believes they are preventing murder. Expect animal liberators (i.e. militant vegetarians) to blow up McDonald's to save 5,000 cows. Expect people who oppose the death penalty to kill prison wardens and executioners. Or we could heed the words of Martin Luther King Ä "It is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends." Abortion and animal testing are not this country's biggest problems; it's the zealots. After all, if these groups develop the same passion for life the anti-abortionists possess Ä we'd all be dead.
Dylan Krider is a creative writing senior.
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