Our First Amendment Right: A Responsibility

By Gretchen Reese

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Excerpt from "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats, 1919

This famous poem by Yeats (1865-1939), a Nobel laureate, was written in the aftermath of World War I and during major upheavals in Russia. His words spoke of the massively bloody tragedies of that time, but he could well have been writing about the Nazi Holocaust (which started near the end of his life) or the West's war on the next generation. Yeats' condemnation might as easily describe many of our own people: passionate and intense about jobs, health care and justice for the poor while indifferent to the killing of the poorest and most vulnerable among us—the preborn.

History repeats and surpasses itself

How did it happen in Germany that so many ordinary people averted their eyes from the wickedness going on all around them? How did they fail to recognize the humanity of the millions of Nazi Holocaust victims? Sometimes the death camps sat right on the outskirts of otherwise normal communities. When the ovens were ignited, the smoke blew over those towns and villages. Daily, their residents would witness the trains arriving laden with new internees and always leaving empty. How did they not know what was happening in those camps? Why did they not act to stop it?

There are now abortion mills scattered around the U.S. Many are situated in otherwise normal neighborhoods or business districts. Daily, women arrive. Two people go into the facility, but only one emerges. The people who live or work in adjacent buildings usually say nothing. Just like the Nazi death camps, at least one American abortion mill has had an incinerator that burned its victims bodies: George Tiller's in Wichita, Kansas (now closed). With or without smoke rising from incinerators, thousands of children's lives are being snuffed out daily.

Since 1973, America's legal system has allowed over 52 million children to die in our modern killing "clinics." This holocaust has taken three to four times the number of lives extinguished in Nazi Germany's concentration camps (11-17 million). The same question must be asked: Why are we not doing more to stop it? The numbers alone should mobilize us.

Speaking out then and now

Under the Hitler regime, there were Germans and others who acted against the horror. They defied Nazi laws and sheltered those sought for deportation to the death camps, or undermined the Nazi eugenics agenda in other ways. These heroes risked their lives and fortunes to protect the innocent, and many died or were imprisoned as a result. In The Cross and the Third Reich (2009), John Frain reported that between 1920 and 1933, the German bishops warned the Catholic population (a third of the German citizens) that the Nazis were "totalitarian, racist, pagan and anti-Christian." Frain discovered that of the 21,000 Catholic priests in Germany as of 1932, over 8,000 eventually clashed with the Reich, several hundred were documented as having lost their lives because of their actions, and there were many more whose heroic resistance was not recorded. (The Rev. Vincent A. Lapomarda, SJ, a history professor at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, has compiled extensive online documentation on Catholic and other resistance to the Third Reich.)

In America, many citizens also work to save the lives of the innocent, especially potential abortion victims. But many more should do so. Unlike Nazi Holocaust opponents, we do not have to hide our lifesaving efforts or face life-threatening consequences for speaking out. We can speak up openly because the First Amendment of the Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to protect the right of free speech, among other rights. Not only is our speech protected, but we as citizens must speak up when the government oversteps its authority. The fundamental rights of all of us are jeopardized when those of any of our fellow human beings are violated. Thus, Americans cannot simply turn their heads when wrongs are perpetrated against any group in our republic: the poor, the elderly, the handicapped or the preborn. Silence is not an option.

In March, Barack Obama, America's most pro-abortion president, visited Savannah, Georgia. Many gathered to greet him, and invited guests had lunch with him. Few of the dignitaries noticed a dozen people displaying pro-life signs along one of the main drives near the luncheon. These 12 individuals were quiet, dignified and cheerful. They did not shout out or confront anyone. They simply held their signs up for all to see.

The group represented a wide cross-section of American society. There were several senior citizens, three young mothers with their babies, a few middle-aged persons and members of various minority groups. They had better things to do than hold signs at a busy intersection. But it was their responsibility as American citizens.

The consequences of silence

In America, we have never experienced a dictatorship as Germany did, but we are experiencing our own holocaust. Many of our smallest and most vulnerable citizens are meeting untimely deaths at an alarming rate. We are privileged to live in a country where speech is still free. But if we refuse to speak up because we are fearful or embarrassed, we will soon lose our right to do so. And then it will be much harder to save anyone.

Yeats said it best: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." We must educate ourselves about the times we live in, be alert, vote and become so convicted that we cannot remain silent. Changing the oppressive laws that threaten the lives of fellow citizens can only happen when we all stand up to be counted.

Gretchen Reese prays weekly at the local Planned Parenthood abortion facility and chairs the Board of Directors of the Savannah Care Center, a pregnancy resource center.

This commentary was originally featured in the Fall 2010 issue of American Life League's Celebrate Life magazine.

Act now!

Here are four ways you can educate others on the horror of abortion:

1. Share American Life League's Baby Steps DVD to show were talking about a baby, not a right! You can watch it online, learn more and order the DVD at www.babystepsdvd.com, or order it by calling 866-538-5483. You can also share this YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/AmericanLifeLeague#p/c/D7F7E61FF4EE90CE/2/RBKKnCtNeRU.

2. Write a letter to the editor every time you see a falsehood in your local newspaper. American Life League makes it easy for you! Just click here for help.

3. Click here to educate yourself on American Life League's work to achieve legal recognition of personhood for all human beings.

4. Ask God to open the eyes, ears and hearts of those blinded by the culture of death to the miracle of God's gift of life. And ask Saint Michael to protect you from temptation:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.