|Dear Diary...Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, calls the 60s "a time when America aged itself." It was also a time when the old immorality became the new morality.|
It was not the best of times, either. For those of us who served in the military during the Korean War, it was an ambivalent time. Berkeley, where I lived, was in turmoil. My generation had just reaped the benefits of the GI Bill and was hell-bent on finding the American Dream. So most of us just watched from the sidelines, as discontent and protests grew bolder. The protestsFree Speech, Vietnam War--swirled around us blocking traffic on Telegraph Avenue and burning our eyes with tear gas that drifted into the eyes of bystanders and provokers alike. While the National Guard cordoned off the city, we watched from the sidelines and wondered what it all meant, if anything, for us. Would Telegraph Avenue ever be the same?
Mario Savios antics in Sproul Plaza made for great conversation on the cocktail and dinner party circuit. "He has a right to say whatever he wants." or "Four-letter words won't make you pregnant. Like it or not. It is a mater of freedom of speech," the young Berkeley intelligentsia argued while either turning a blind eye to the mayhem or encouraging it as a necessary evil to guarantee free speech. The Berkeley intelligentsia, too young for World War II and the Korean War, had managed to avoid the Vietnam War by going to college. They were quick to remind any who spoke out against the absurdity of the Berkeley situation, "Our country was born out of civil unrest." Maybe those of us looking at the spectacle from the sidelines reduced the Free Speech Movement, about the right to conduct political activity on the UC Campus, to the right to utter four-letter words and to maintain a squalid slum, which they termed "People's Park", on land owned by the University of California. Maybe we should have been more concerned because a way of life envisioned by my generation was crumbling.
As the unrest spread across the country like a pall, many of us began to fear that the turmoil would cause the collapse of authority based on our form of government. Kent State, the assassination of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King were by-products of civil unrest and a rude awakening to those of us living in the false security of the American Dream. By the time we began to awaken from that dream, the America we were dreaming about no longer existed. Free will, free sex and free abortion replaced it. James Hitchcock, a professor of history at St. Louis University, comments on the 60s, "Summing up the 60s is almost impossible because they left scarcely a single institution, a single belief, untouched it was a ferocious and largely successful assault on every traditional belief." Those of us who lived through it were changed forever, too.
Perhaps the American Dream faded during the 60s, yet the First Amendment and we have survived. Larry Flint went to court, for his First Amendment Right to publish smut, and made a fortune. Larry Flint is in court again, perhaps lending credence to the adage that "as much as things change, they remain the same." Berkeley has changed. It has returned to the normalcy of a college town, i.e., as normal as any place populated by young men and women with raging hormones and skateboards. Telegraph Avenue has changed--no boarded up windows to project stores from looters. Gone with the winds of change, too, is the neat attire of the 60's--replaced by the unisex dress of the 90's. The street people have taken over Telegraph Avenue. At times it looks like the main street of some Third World country. It is still under siege, but now by the the police trying to reclaim the normalcy of the 60's. Crank has replaced marijuana in People's Park as the escape-from-reality drug.
We are still fighting the First Amendment battle. We are wiser now. We are no longer on the sidelines. However, Berkeley has been replaced by Chicago as the place where by far the most serious of the current threats to First Amendment freedoms is being foughtnot on the streets, but in a court. That threat is called the "Scheidler Verdict." Civil libertarians call the Scheidler verdict and the RICO racketeering law on which its based, "the most serious threat to First Amendment freedoms" we have ever faced. This is how it happened: Joe Scheidler, Andrew Schoolbag, and Tim Murphy, while cleared by the jury of any personal involvement in violence at abortion clinics, were nevertheless presumed by their outspoken appeals against abortion to have somehow inspired an occasional whacko to violence against abortion clinics. They were found guilty of "extortion" under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act in an action brought by the National Organization of Women, et al. The crux of the matter is that by advocating boycotts of the clinics they denied profits to the abortion clinics.
In an interview with the Catholic Register, Nat Hentoff, the veteran free speech advocate, said that, "first Amendment challenges are always cyclical. They rise and they fall. But the application of RICO to the Scheidler case is the most serious threat in years. The law is so broad and vague, it becomes simply a prosecutors tool." Hentoff pointed out that all the civil rights efforts of the past 30 years involved the use of tactics like boycotts to foster social change. Even today, high school and college students organizing boycotts of Nike for allegedly exploiting foreign workers in their overseas factories are using extortion, according to the broad language of RICO. "The National Organization of Women may be cheering now," said Hentoff, "but if they become real activists again, which theyre not now, theyre going to find themselves in the same RICO hole."
The freedom to speak one's point of view is a grace within the Christian concept of freedom. Freedom lacking a religious dimension, that is, freedom that does not have grace and make use of it, is fallen freedom. This is why the Scheidler Verdict is a most dangerous assault on the Christian concept of freedom and especially the freedom to express our religious convictions on the protection of human life from the moment of conception. If this verdict stands, the First Amendment freedom becomes a fallen freedom.
From the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Christians have a moral right to speak out against the abominable crime of abortion. However, the Scheidler Verdict is a chilling effect on that right. Robert Blakely, a Notre Dame professor who helped draft RICO, claims that it was never intended to apply to political or social action organizations. It was intended as a tool to fight organized crime. Blakely was quoted in the New York Times, "If you look at this case and say its about abortion, youre missing the point Everyone who loves the First Amendment has got to sleep uneasy tonight."
Fr. Joe Landi is a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishops Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, the Editor of The San Francisco Charismatics, and the Board Chair of Sierra Point Credit Union, South San Francisco, which serves the Charismatic Renewal membership. Opinions expressed are his own.
You can contact Fr. Landi by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, read other articles in the July Newsletter, or return to the Main Menu of this web site by clicking on the blue. © 1998, The San Francisco Charismatics, (ISSN 1098-4046). All rights reserved. The San Francisco Charismatics is a member of the Catholic Press Association of the Unites States and Canada.