A century ago, Petty Officer William Downes might have been dangled by his neck from the yardarm. But last fall, he was merely discharged. Downes refused to perform his duties at the U.S. Naval Academy after discovering that navy hospitals perform abortions. "Our present regime is acting immorally," he said.
Is this the new pattern for Christian citizenship? Must we become conscientious objectors? Have democratic means of reform been foreclosed? These sobering questions were raised last November by myself and others in a First Things (FT) symposium titled "The End of Democracy?"
Our goal was to stimulate debate, and that we did, drawing fire from both Left and Right. Bunch of "theocrats" yearning for "a Christian nation," sneered Jacob Heilbrunn in the New Republic. Nothing but "a justification for violence," charged Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. On the right, several neoconservatives resigned from the FT editorial board, while Commentary hosted a countersymposium. Smokes out Christian hopes for a "theocracy," warned Irwin Stelzer. Sheer "anti-Americanism," snapped Norman Podhoretz.
I was stunned. Since Roe v. Wade, Christians have criticized the imperial judiciary. Indeed, since the early church, we have debated our dual citizenship in the City of God and the City of Man. So why the hysterical reaction?
What gave our discussion a sharp edge was a rash of Supreme Court decisions, whose full import critics don't yet grasp. Sure, the Court has ruled for abortion, they say, but democratic remedies are still available.
But are they? Recent decisions are not just immoral, as Downes put it; they have short-circuited the democratic process itself. The Court has enshrined its own opinions as constitutional liberties beyond appeal ...1