One pastor’s journey from life on the streets to the head of pro-democracy protests
I was just 6 years old when a big, brick federal courthouse in Waterloo, Iowa, handed me my first disappointment with civil justice—right there in the true-blue heartland of the USofA. I sat with my father and grandfather as a judge ruled harshly against them in a tax case having to do with the grain business they owned together. I learned that day that a building’s impressive looks and a judge’s authoritative appearance weren’t enough to ensure that things would always go the way they were supposed to. My father and grandfather were honest businessmen, and they were outraged that their government was treating them so greedily and unfairly.
Thirty years later, a van operated by the Christian high school where I served as headmaster was involved in a minor fender bender—but not so minor that the driver of the other car didn’t sue. Four times, I took five students from their classes for the whole morning to serve as witnesses in the court case that followed. Four times, the party suing the school and its insurance company failed even to show up in court. And four times, inexplicably, the judge continued the case. The students learned a great deal more about American courts than I wanted them to.
A dozen years later, a hospitalized friend was raped in the middle of the night by a male nurse in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. The criminal and civil cases that followed over the next few years made cynics of most of us who wanted to support and encourage our friend. Looking for justice, she instead got mere scraps thrown out the back door of a traveling circus.
Should I go on? Should I mention the young mother in our church who, after suffering the ignominy of losing her adulterous husband, also lost custody of her children, thanks to the “progressive” views of a circuit court judge? We witnesses were dumbfounded.
Now we’re talking about calculated efforts to compel folks to adopt a particular system of belief, or to pay massive fines for their noncompliance.
So for me, at least, it hasn’t been a lifetime of watching how well the system works. I’m not especially enamored of this thing we call “justice” in America.
But having said that, there’s an important distinction to be made at this juncture in our public life. All those lapses in justice that I cited (and I’ve learned almost everyone has his or her own list) might well be charged up to incompetence, overcrowded court dockets, or misguided efforts at following some other court’s misguided precedents.
Not so—or let’s say, not at all so—with the crass ruling handed down on July 14 by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver against the Little Sisters of the Poor, a historic Roman Catholic relief organization, in a case involving Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Now we’re talking about calculated efforts to compel folks to adopt a particular system of belief, or to pay massive fines for their noncompliance. Now we’re talking not about incidental slipups on the way to justice. We’re talking here about applications of the law deliberately designed to override the consciences of our citizens.
It was like putting an exclamation point—or maybe three of them—at the end of an already threatening judicial year. The Supreme Court had just showcased its burly power by affirming Obamacare and by its hasty endorsement of same-sex marriage. So why not try something almost as outrageous at the circuit court level? And if this legal juggernaut could make its point by running ruthlessly over an organization called Little Sisters of the Poor, why not go for it?
Instead of an incidental or occasional slipup, it’s now become a purposeful pattern—subscribed to by a whole gaggle of judges. As Little Sisters attorney Mark Rienzi put it: “It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.”
No reason at all unless Big Brother’s goal is, with bigger and bigger bites, to gobble up everything that used to belong to Little Sister.