Reminding Caesar of God’s Existence
A very un-Manhattan-like declaration.


LOPEZ: Is this declaration comparable to the end of democracy debate of the late Nineties?

GEORGE: The End of Democracy debate was focused on the consequences for political legitimacy of the judicial usurpation of democratic authority. That remains an important constitutional issue, but it is not a central focus of the Manhattan Declaration.

LOPEZ: When will it be time for civil disobedience? When will people know? How should they express it?

GEORGE: We believe in law and the rule of law. We recognize an obligation to comply with laws, whether we like them or not. That obligation is defeasible, however. Gravely unjust laws, and especially laws that seek to compel people to do things that are unjust, do not bind in conscience. Certainly, one must never perform a gravely unjust act, even when following orders or compelled by law. Christians believe — and they are far from alone in this — that one must be prepared to pay a price, sometimes a very high price indeed, for refusing to do what one’s conscience tells one is wrong. Socrates, as presented by his disciple Plato, stunned his interlocutors by saying that if one is faced with the options of doing a wrong or suffering one, it is better to suffer a wrong. That’s the teaching of Christianity, too. So if legislation is enacted that compels obstetricians and gynecologists to participate in abortions or refer for them, Christians and other pro-life men and women who practice in those fields of medicine will find themselves faced with the options of doing what they judge in conscience to be gravely unjust or abandoning their careers. Their obligation will be to abandon their careers. By the same token, if legislation is enacted to compel Catholic hospitals and clinics, for example, to provide abortion services or refer for abortions, those institutions could face the options of doing what the Church teaches is profoundly wrong or going out of business. Their obligation will be to go out of business. Of course, this would be a tragedy, especially since these institutions do such wonderful work in providing health care to the poor. But the legal imposition will leave them no choice.  

LOPEZ: Is it dangerous to talk this way, as you do in the Declaration?

GEORGE: No. There is nothing new or surprising in what we say. When it comes to the obligation to refuse to comply with laws that impose on conscience to require people to do what they believe is gravely unjust, the Declaration simply affirms what Christianity has always taught. As the Declaration recalls, this is precisely the teaching that Rev. Martin Luther King proclaimed in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

LOPEZ: Can people who support the Manhattan Declaration join as signatories?

GEORGE: Yes. We hope that hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens will read and reflect on the Declaration, and, if they agree with what it says, sign it.