Our Media is the Streets
Fr. Frank A. Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Quotes on Pro-life Street Activity
John Paul II
- The Benefits of Public Pro-Life Presence
- The Different Types of Street Activity
- Recruiting for Street Activism
- Activating Churches
- Ecumenical Considerations
- Fruits of Our Labors
- The Nationwide Non-Injunction
- Why We Cant' "Agree to Disagree"
- An Inalienable Duty
- What are the Helpers of God's Precious Infants?
- Notes on Sidewalk Counseling
- Practical Tips
- Sidewalk Counseling: Still a Constitutional
- The Chicago Method
- Why Pray the Rosary at Abortion Mills?
- Violence and Abortion
- Whose "Rhetoric" Leads to Violence?
- A Protective Ring or Violence?
- A Declaration of Pro-Life Leaders
- The Civil Rights Movement
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- A Recent Letter
- The "Prodigal Project"
To Bob Landvogt
With whom I have spent many hours on public sidewalks protesting abortion,
and who is the one who said to me,
"Father Frank, our media is the streets!"
Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day homily,
August 15, 1993, Denver
"Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into
public places like the first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of
salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be
ashamed of the Gospel (cf.Rom.1:16). It is the time to preach it from the
rooftops (cf.Mt.10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine
modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the
modern "metropolis." It is you who must "go out into the byroads" (Mt.22:9) and
invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people.
The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never
meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people
may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father (cf.Mt.5:15-16)."
From "Faithful for Life: A Moral
Reflection" US Bishops, Fall, 1995
"When those who adhere to a belief in the sacredness of
life express that belief publicly by their words, public witness and peaceful
protest, we bishops are heard among them--as we have been heard on workers'
rights, and civil rights, and in the struggle for peace--urging prayerful,
nonviolent and even exemplary witness that respects every single human life."
My interest in fighting abortion was sparked by an event on the public
streets of America: the Annual March for Life in Washington, DC. As a public
school student, I went to that March in 1976, when I was a senior in High
School. The presence of so many people from so many diverse places, taking a
public stand against abortion, and marching on a bitter-cold day, made me
realize that the issue is a crucial one.
Since 1993, fighting abortion has been my full-time work. This work has taken
me to every one of the 50 states. In each of those states, I have met dedicated
people who sacrifice their time, their money, and sometimes their friendships
and freedoms, to bring freedom to our unborn brothers and sisters. Many of these
people endure ridicule and insults as they stand on public sidewalks, peacefully
praying, protesting child-killing, and lovingly reaching out to women who think
the abortionist is the only help they have. Sometimes, these pro-lifers have the
great joy of knowing they have saved a life. Most of the time, they need to
simply offer their humble efforts to God and hope that in heaven they will meet
the ones they have saved.
Often enough, these pro-life people are dismissed, even by some in the
pro-life movement, as extreme, unreasonable, insensitive, and even violent.
Those who characterize them this way often don't pause to examine whether there
might be some rational, or even virtuous, basis for what they are doing. I know
these people. They love life, they love peace, and many of them are heroic. The
last thing they are looking for is praise. All they want is an objective ear,
and a measure of respect.
They most certainly have mine.
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
The Benefits of Public
Abortion cannot be defended. It goes on because of lies, and
because of the silence of those who know the truth. When abortion is entrenched
in national policy, it is to the benefit of the defenders of abortion to silence
any further public debate on the issue. If they have what they want, why should
they risk losing it by allowing people to hear the truth of the pro-life
position? Why fight pro-life arguments? Just prevent them from being heard! Why
even raise a question about abortion? Just maintain the status quo!
We see, in fact, the pro-life message being excluded from the media, from
educational institutions, and from the government. Defenders of abortion are
less willing to even engage in debates with pro-lifers.
How, then, is the public to hear the truth about abortion? Certainly the
Churches have to be activated. There are many Churches which need to be roused
out of silence regarding abortion. While efforts are made at this, however,
there is still the need to reach the public now. Furthermore, those who
never go to Church need to be reached as well.
What other avenue is open to pro-lifers by which they can reach the
general public with the truth, and do so immediately? That avenue is the
"street," that is to say, the public property which, throughout our history, has
been the protected forum by which great and small, rich and poor alike could
voice their message to others. In fact, no major social movement has succeeded
in bringing about change in our country, for better or for worse, without taking
to the streets. Even if the other means of reaching the public were more open to
us, the street would still have an irreplaceable value and effectiveness.
Those who support abortion will sometimes say that they defend our right
to "have different beliefs" and "express our views publicly." Aside from the
fact that the actions of most pro-abortion groups contradict that assertion, the
point is that our presence on public streets and sidewalks is about more than
expressing beliefs and viewpoints. It's about saving lives. It's about stopping
bloodshed. It's about intervening to save a victim who is about to be killed.
When violence is being committed, victims do not simply need people who will
"express their belief" that the violence is wrong. They need someone who will
come to save them. While much needs to be said (and is said here) about our
First Amendment rights, pro-life activity has an even firmer foundation than the
First Amendment. The foundation is the fundamental obligation that human beings
have to care for each other and, insofar as possible, intervene to save one
We can briefly summarize the benefits that result when pro-life people
take their cause to the streets.
1. The street enables us to take our message directly to the public,
bypassing the government, the media, educational facilities, and all those in
the institutions who seek to silence the pro-life message. People driving or
walking are not there because they want to hear us, but because they are going
about their daily duties. The entire cross-section of the public is reached. We
meet people where they are, and make it impossible for them to ignore us. This
counteracts the efforts of those who would privatize the Gospel, and confine the
pro-life and Christian message merely to our homes and Churches. The message of
life is true not only in our homes and Churches, but everywhere, including
streets and public places.
2. There is a double tragedy to abortion. The first tragedy is that it
occurs. The second tragedy is that while it occurs, life for so many goes on
"business as usual." Abortion becomes part of the landscape; it recedes into the
scenery and is considered a normal part of the orderly functioning of society.
Things are at peace, the streets are quiet, and from the looks of things,
But everything is not OK if babies are being killed. The apparent
peace and order of society are superficial and illusory. That peace and order
are being destroyed behind closed doors by abortion. A false peace and order
covers over this injustice.
By coming out onto the streets, we declare that everything's not OK, that
life cannot go on "business as usual" while 4000 babies are killed daily. Those
who support the killing tell us, "Leave us alone in peace!" To do so, however,
is to support a false peace. "'Peace, peace!' they say, though there is no
peace" (Jer. 6:14). This is the kind of false peace our Lord condemned when He
said, "Do not think I have come to establish peace on earth. I assure you, the
opposite is true. I have come for division" (Luke 12:51). Our presence on the
streets shows that we are not at peace with abortion. It calls for a division of
good people from this evil. It refuses to yield to an unjust tranquility.
3. By going into the streets, we always win. Whether people agree with us
or not, whether they are persuaded by our presence or not, we have forced them
to confront the reality of abortion. We have brought abortion to their attention
whether they like it or not. That means we win. If people never confront
abortion, it will never be stopped. If people are not forced to re-think it,
then they will remain in ignorance ("I don't know") and denial ("I don't want to
know"), and abortion will continue unchallenged. If, however, the public
continues to see protest and unrest and many people against abortion, they will
have to say, "Why this protesting? What is it that is so wrong? Why do so may
people continue to be so disturbed?" If they see the sacrifice we make by
enduring heat and cold, rain and snow, loneliness and ridicule over many hours,
they will have to ask whether abortion might be worse than they think it is.
They may be roused from slumber.
4. We need to go out on the streets because abortion is a local
phenomenon. Efforts to petition the government must continue, but abortions do
not occur in the halls of Congress; they occur down the street from where we
live and work and relax. The killing is taking place in the local community, and
the local community must take responsibility to stop the killing. Local
residents must register their disapproval, and this is done quite vividly in the
streets. We pro-lifers should not so much lose peace over who is sitting in the
White House; we should lose peace over the fact that we are sitting in our
5. Street activity is valuable not only for what it does to the public,
but what it does for the pro-lifers themselves. When someone expresses his
convictions publicly, those convictions are strengthened inwardly. When someone
brings the truth to the public streets or stands in prayer where killing is
actually taking place, that person receives a deeper sense of the urgency of the
battle and the reality of the problem. Street activities also help to recruit
pro-life activists (see more on this below).
6. A key aspect of the message we publicly proclaim is that the mothers
of aborted babies are also harmed and sometimes killed by the same procedure
that kills their children. The abortion industry is responsible for untold
numbers of malpractice incidents, resulting in maternal injuries and deaths. A
poster is now available which contains some of the names of mothers who obtained
so-called "safe and legal" abortions but died as a result. It is a very powerful
practice to bring this poster to a prayer vigil or picket in front of an
abortion mill (or elsewhere) and have a leader read each of the names of these
deceased. After each name, the assembled group can respond, "Lord, have mercy on
her." (The poster is available from Life Dynamics. Call 1-800-401-6494).
6. Pro-life presence in the streets is more essential than ever.
Defenders of abortion are not only saying no to life; they are seeking to
silence our yes. For example, the official guidelines of BACAOR (an anti-life
group in San Francisco) say that they seek to get pro-lifers not only to go away
from the door of the abortion mill, but to go away altogether. Efforts such as
RICO suits and the FACE Law unfairly discriminate against pro-life free speech,
and the enemy uses them to instill in us a fear of speaking out. They want us to
go away. Our response can and must be, "We will not go away!" Now is the time to
increase and intensify our activities on the streets, not to back away from
them! The best way to defend our First Amendment rights is to exercise them
without fear! This is the moment to show our opponents that we will not
be intimidated from speaking up for what is right.
The Different Types of
Pro-life presence in the streets takes many different forms. It
is important for pro-life individuals and groups to have a clear idea of these
different activities, and to be aware of the specific purpose and procedures of
an event they organize or participate in. Pro-life groups should consult with
local police whenever they have a street event.
The following is not an exhaustive list, but illustrates some of the main
varieties of street presence. These are not listed in any order of importance,
effectiveness, or recommendation.
1. Marches. A march brings a group of pro-lifers together
to move through a village or city on the sidewalk or street. Rather than
focusing on one location, a larger territory is covered, and the focus is to
raise public awareness about abortion. Signs and banners are effectively used in
marches. Special pro-life floats and motorcades can also be utilized.
2. Life Chains. In a Life Chain, pro-lifers stand still in
a single line, several feet from one another, along a road or highway, all
holding similar signs made available through the National Life Chain leaders.
The signs say "Abortion Kills Children," "Adoption, the Loving Option," "Jesus
Forgives and Heals," and "Abortion Hurts Women." A Life Chain can vary in length
from a few blocks to many miles, and generally lasts an hour or two. The goal is
public awareness of abortion, and the location is any public street or highway
where people can see the message.
3. Prayer Vigils. At a prayer vigil, pro-lifers gather to
lift up their hearts and voices to God, asking Him to bring an end to abortion,
to save babies and their mothers, and to convert abortionists and the entire
society. A prayer vigil can be conducted at an abortion mill, sometimes
involving a march from a local Church. It can also be conducted at some other
public place like a park, monument, or civic building. Catholics will normally
include the Rosary at such events. The vigil can take many other forms as well,
with Scriptural proclamations, psalms, hymns, litanies, and sermons. Some prayer
vigils are held without any signs, since the focus is a prayerful presence to
call down God's grace for the protection of the children, the salvation of the
mothers, and, for those babies who are killed, to assure that they do not die
4. Pickets. A picket involves a group of pro-lifers who
target a specific institution and/or public figure who provides or supports
abortion. Signs are used and participants generally walk back and forth in front
of the chosen location. Abortion mills are picketed, as are hospitals which
provide abortions, offices and homes of abortionists, offices and homes of
pro-abortion public figures, fund raising events that benefit the abortion
industry, and various other events. The focus here is to both raise public
awareness about child-killing and how a particular person or institution
supports it, as well as to bring pressure to bear on that person or institution
to repent. In the case of an abortionist's office or a hospital, patients coming
for legitimate reasons will often be unaware that baby-killing is occurring
there, and as a result of the picket, will sometimes choose to seek their
medical needs elsewhere. Picketing activity will often cause an office to lose
5. Sidewalk counseling. Whenever pro-lifers are in the
vicinity of an abortion mill, they can reach out with compassion to women coming
there for abortions, and make an appeal to those women not to go in.
Alternatives are offered, and the pro-lifers should be ready to take the woman
to the closest crisis pregnancy center. Literature is offered, which refers to
the humanity of the child, the harm abortion does to the mother, and the
alternatives. The sidewalk counselor usually has a very brief time to make one
or two statements that may educate the woman on a fact about abortion that she
did not know. Many women on their way in to the abortion mill are still
ambivalent about their "choice"; many are even waiting and secretly hoping for
someone to tell them not to do this. Sidewalk counseling can take place on its
own or in conjunction with a prayer vigil, picket, or rescue.
It is important for the sidewalk counselor to try to speak to the woman
when she comes out after her abortion as well as before she goes in, since some
40% of abortions are repeat abortions. The woman who has just aborted her child
needs to know that we can help her find healing. She should also be told that
she can sue the abortionist for damages done to her from the abortion.
6. Rescues. A rescue focuses on intervening directly and
peacefully to prevent the child from being brought into contact with the
instruments which will kill him/her. Pro-lifers might block the doors to the
abortion mill with their bodies or with other objects. When police try to remove
them, they will go limp, thereby refusing to abandon the children scheduled to
die. The time it takes to open access to the mill allows sidewalk counselors to
plead with the mothers to spare their children. Rescues are not acts of civil
disobedience or protests primarily meant to get a message to the public.
Instead, they are simply efforts to save people about to be killed. Breaking a
law of trespass to prevent killing is perfectly justified in this and other
7. Lit-drops. The distribution of literature has long been
a proven way to educate the public. There are numerous pro-life fliers
available, which can be handed out on public sidewalks or placed on cars or on
the doors of local residents.
8. Teach-ins. The public needs to be educated about
abortion. In a teach-in, a handful of pro-lifers gather on a street corner or
other public area and begin speaking aloud on the abortion issue. They will
bring some sort of podium, educational posters, perhaps a portable video
machine, and literature to distribute. The teach-in goes a step beyond holding
signs and distributing literature, because it provides to anyone who listens a
more thorough explanation of the facts and even a chance for questions.
9. Other activities. The varieties of public presence for
pro-life are limited only by the imagination and willingness of pro-lifers.
Countless other peaceful, effective ways exist and can be developed to bring the
message to the streets. Groups should "brainstorm" about such events.
Brainstorming is different from planning. In planning, the practical limitations
of an idea need to be considered. But in brainstorming, one should temporarily
forget about what is possible or practical, and let ideas be generated freely
and wildly. They can be trimmed down later.
Recruiting for Street Activism
Planning an event is one thing. Getting participation is another.
Bringing people into the streets is a challenge, because it requires that
participants expand their "comfort zone," that is, the range of activities and
circumstances in which they comfortably function. To ask people to come into the
streets is to ask them to do something new and, for many people, scary.
The fear can be largely overcome by helping people understand the nature
and purpose of these activities. Because of ignorance and media bias, the
general public is confused about the true nature of pro-life activism, and very
good people may be confusing violent and non-violent activity.
Careful education about the events being planned is necessary. Videos of
similar events can help people see for themselves what the event is and what
they will be asked to do.
The most effective key to encouraging participation is to invite people.
Personal and direct contact is the most effective way. A personal phone call is
more effective than a mailing, flier, or newspaper announcement, although these
are very necessary as well. Contact with other groups and leaders is crucial.
The Churches must also be involved (see below).
Street activities are an excellent opportunity to recruit new helpers
into the pro-life movement. A march or a Life Chain may be a person's only
active involvement with the movement in the space of a year. Records must be
kept. Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all participants should be taken at
every event. This will enable organizers to contact these people directly for
future events. The participants should be made to feel needed and wanted.
Once names and numbers have been taken, there needs to be follow-up. A
note thanking the person for participating will be very effective. A phone call
asking the person's help for a project can be very fruitful. People need to know
exactly how and why they are needed in the movement. Rather than asking a
general question like, "Would you like to be (or remain) involved?", ask
instead, "Can you do this task for this specific project? We need your skills."
Sometimes a person seems interested on one day and not interested the
next. This should not deter the pro-life recruiter. People have good and bad
days. By keeping in contact frequently with a new or potential activist, a
recruiter can engender and sustain new commitments.
Activating the Churches
The best constituency for the pre-born children are regular
Churchgoers. Pastors have a key role in motivating their people to stop the
killing and to convert the nation against abortion. Pastors have a serious duty
to preach the truth in the pulpit and to lead their people to bring the truth
into the streets.
Pro-lifers should approach their pastors regularly to encourage them to
speak and take action against abortion. They should praise their pastor when he
does speak out, and gently but firmly remind him if he doesn't.
A very effective approach is for two or three experienced pro-lifers to
have a meeting with the pastor, in which they 1) tell him how valuable his
leadership is; 2) explain their own motivation and experience in the pro-life
movement; 3) update the pastor on the current situation in the movement; 4)
pledge their co-operation for specific projects that can be implemented in the
local Church; 5) seek the pastor's encouragement and leadership for one or more
of these projects or for a project he may come up with. The approach in such a
meeting is not, "Pastor, you're not doing your job," but rather, "Pastor, we are
behind you to support you in your pro-life leadership role. Let's get to work
Helpful materials for clergy are available through Priests for Life, P.O.
Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314.
Many who oppose abortions come together for various kinds of public
demonstrations, but because they are from diverse Christian denominations, may
have different habits and traditions of prayer. This sometimes creates a
challenge which must be met with delicacy and prudence: How do we maintain our
unity as opponents of abortion, and yet pray together in our diversity as
In cases like this, we have to avoid two extremes, namely, 1) the idea that
our differences are so great that we cannot pray together, or 2) the belief that
in the interests of praying together in unity, any and all particular
differences must be sacrificed. Neither scenario needs to be the case.
Certainly in these instances, flexibility should be exercised by all. There
needs to be a common witness against abortion. The secular society needs to see
that pro-life people can unite in opposition to child-killing, and that such
opposition is not limited to any one denomination or religion. Organizers should
therefore plan for prayers and devotions in which all who are present on a given
occasion can participate with a clear conscience. This may mean that the usual
way in which one segment of the participants customarily pray is changed on that
occasion. Catholics, for example, do not always have to pray the rosary when at
the abortion mill. The Psalms are just as Catholic as the rosary is, and
Catholics should be perfectly comfortable praying them, along with their
Protestant brothers and sisters.
At the same time, there can be, at an event of diverse denominations, periods
of prayer that express the particular customs of one or another group. During
these times, those who do not feel comfortable offering those prayers need not
join in. But this does not have to mean that they need to go away at that point.
The unity on which the entire group stands at such a gathering is the
affirmation of the right to life. The gathering should not be a time when one
group tries to persuade another that its way of praying should be adopted.
Instead, it should be a time of shared encouragement, respectful acknowledgment
of differences, and clear recognition that a common enemy (abortion) provides a
clear opportunity for unity.
Fruits of Our Labors
Everyone who is involved in peaceful demonstrations has heard of
instances in which lives have been saved as a result. Here are several examples.
A Life Chain. The organizers of the life chain that is held every
month in my home town were approached one afternoon by a woman with a baby. She
said she had been scheduled for an abortion, and drove by one day and saw the
prolifers holding their signs. It made her re-think her options, and she chose
A Florida Abortion Mill. One of the most memorable days for me
personally was the day in Orlando, Florida when, together with the Diocesan
Respect Life Coordinator and a couple of dozen prolifers, I prayed in front of a
local abortion facility. At a certain point, the sidewalk counselors brought a
young girl over to me who had just come out of the facility. She was sitting in
the waiting room, about to have her abortion, when she saw us praying and
holding signs that said there are alternatives to abortion. Then, when she saw
that a priest was there, she asked herself why she was sitting in that room. She
felt terribly out of place, and found the strength to just get up and leave.
Once outside, she went to confession right there on the public sidewalk. (She
gave me full permission to tell this story.) "I feel so bad that I even went
in there." "Well God is very happy that you have come back out," I told her.
"Now the thing for you to focus on is being a good mother, and God will give you
all the grace you need to do that." The local pro-life community followed up
with this girl in the following months, providing for all her needs. Some six
months later, I was privileged to baptize her child, whom she named
Guadalupe. "You not only saved my child's life," this young, happy mother
later wrote me, "You saved my life, too. I don't know how I could have lived
with the guilt of abortion."
A Brother's Humble Prayers. Brother Martin Temple, C.SS.R., offered
many days of prayer in front of a local abortion mill in his community. After
moving to a different state, he received a letter from an abortionist which
read, "Dear Brother Martin, I have been informed that you have moved to
California. I was wondering what happened to you, since we had not seen you over
at our Clinic recently. Since I've not seen you, I thought I would write you a
letter and share with you that we have stopped doing terminations. I thought
that you would be pleased to know that your efforts and prayers have been
rewarded. We are still doing well in our practice. We hope that everything is
going well with you."
Hidden Fruits. Mark Bomchill used to be a security guard at an
abortion mill in the Twin Cities. Now pro-life, he testifies that many women
changed their minds about getting an abortion after they had entered the
facility. The presence of pro-life people outside made them re-think what they
were about to do. He and the abortion staff, however, did not want to give the
pro-life people the satisfaction of seeing the women who cancelled their
abortions. So they took them out through the back doors. Those who pray at
abortion mills should never underestimate the power of their presence. Someone
who was an administrator of several abortion mills once told me, "When we saw
pro-life demonstrators outside, we knew it was going to be a bad day [in terms
of business]. When we saw a priest with them, we knew it would be a very bad
The Nationwide Non-Injunction
One of the nation's leading pro-life activists is Joe Scheidler,
Director of the Pro-life Action League in Chicago. Because of the outstanding
success of his efforts, a lawsuit was brought against him by the National
Organization for Women (NOW) which went all the way to the Supreme Court and
sought to apply RICO laws (the Federal anti-racketeering statutes which were
originally written to deal with organized crime) to the efforts of peaceful
pro-lifers. The case dragged on for nearly 13 years. In July of 1999, Judge
David Coar handed down a "nationwide injunction" which indicated that acts of
destruction of property, threats of violence, trespass, or blocking or impeding
access to abortion facilities are prohibited.
The ruling is significant, however, regarding what actions it said are
permissible. Here is a direct quote from the injunction:
"This injunction does not prohibit or preclude expressive activities that
are constitutionally protected, including but not limited to the following
a) Peacefully carrying picket signs on the public property in front of any
b) Making speeches on public property;
c) Speaking to individuals approaching the clinic;
d) Handing out literature on public property;
e) Praying on public property."
A footnote to item c states, "This activity is also referred to as
'sidewalk counseling.' Sidewalk counseling has been defined by the Supreme Court
as '…a conversation of a non-threatening nature by not more than two people with
each person or group of persons they are seeking to counsel…' Schenck, 519 US
The point of all this is what Joe Scheidler stated in his press release,
namely, that the injunction "simply states that we can't do what we don't do
anyway and that we can do what we have always done."
I have examined the entire transcript of the trial in this case, and I know
the defendants. They were accused of doing things they have never done. The
whole case illustrates a strategy of abortion supporters. They know, better than
the general public does, that pro-life activists are peaceful people. But by
creating lawsuits against pro-life activists, they set up a false enemy. News
reports are thereby generated that create the impression that pro-life people
are being brought to court for "violence." The movement is then tainted in the
minds of large numbers of people, who never end up hearing the court's judgments
that the peaceful activity which the pro-lifers have always done is, as Judge
Coar wrote, "constitutionally protected."
The result is that they want nothing to do with the activities which pro-life
Our responsibility is to organize these activities with more vigor and
frequency than ever before. The best way to lose our First Amendment rights is
to fail to exercise them because of fear.
Why We Can't "Agree to Disagree"
The solution that some propose to the divisive
controversy over abortion is that the opposing parties in this dispute should
simply "agree to disagree." This is presented as a reasonable option. It does
not require that either side change its views, but simply agree to allow the
different views, and the practices that flow from them.
Sorry, but this is a proposal we in the pro-life movement can't accept.
First of all, to ask us to "agree to disagree" about abortion is to ask us to
change our position on it. Why, after all, do we disagree in the first place?
When we oppose abortion, we disagree with the notion that it is even negotiable.
We do not only claim that we cannot practice it, but that nobody can practice
it, precisely because it violates the most fundamental human right, the right to
life. To "agree to disagree" means that we no longer see abortion for what it is
-- a violation of a right so fundamental that disagreement cannot be allowed to
tamper with it.
To "agree to disagree" is to foster the notion that the baby is a baby only
if the mother thinks it is, that the child has value only if the mother says it
does, and that we have responsibility only for those we choose to have
Certainly, there are many disputes in our nation about which we can "agree to
disagree." Various proposals, programs, and strategies can be debated as we try
to figure out how best to secure people's rights. But these legitimate areas of
disagreement relate to how to secure people's rights, whereas the abortion
controversy is about whether to secure or even recognize those rights at all. We
can agree to disagree whether certain government programs should be allowed, but
not whether acts of violence should be allowed. "Agree to disagree" seems like a
neutral posture to assume, but it neutralizes what can never be neutral: the
right to life itself.
Furthermore, the abortion dispute is not merely about conceptual
disagreement. It's about justice. It's about violence, bloodshed, and victims
who need to be defended. In the midst of a policy permitting 4000 babies a day
to be killed, to "agree to disagree" means to cease to defend the absolute
rights of the victim.
We don't fight oppression by "agreeing to disagree" with the oppressor. It is
precisely when the oppressor disagrees that we have to intervene to stop the
violence. The fact that the oppressor does not recognize the victim as a person
does not remove our obligation to the victim. In the face of injustice, we are
not simply called to disagree with it, but to stop it.
The proposal to "agree to disagree" presumes the issue is about people
disagreeing over abortion, not about people being killed by abortion. The
proposal shows how invisible the unborn victim remains.
It is a false solution indeed.
An Inalienable Duty
The right to life is inalienable. The State does not give it, nor
can the State take it away.
Similarly, the duty to defend life is inalienable. The state does not
give it, nor can the State take it away. The duty to speak the truth is
inalienable. The duty to break the silence and to come out onto the streets is
Pro-lifers are called to reject all violence in their activities. This
movement has always been non-violent, and acknowledges that we may never do evil
to achieve good.
The time to act is now. Pro-lifers need to come into the streets and
public places to awaken the public to the injustice and violence of abortion,
and see to it that this evil is not covered over by a false peace that allows
abortion to just become a normal part of the landscape. Pro-lifers need to come
into the streets and public places to tell the abortion industry that we will
not go away until they stop killing babies and exploiting women. Pro-lifers need
to come out into the streets and public places to tell the media that they
cannot ignore us, and to alert the government that the people want a change and
want it now. If the U.S. government derives its just powers from the consent of
the governed, it is time for us, the governed, to clearly address child-killing
and say "We no longer consent!" This message must resound where everyone can
hear it and where nobody can ignore it. Responsibility to end the killing rests
with the people, and the people must make their will known publicly. Our media
is the streets.
A. What are the Helpers of God's Precious
This apostolate, headed by Msgr. Philip Reilly from the Diocese of Brooklyn,
characteristically involves a Mass, a rosary procession from the Church to a
nearby abortion facility, a period of prayer at the facility while trained
counselors assist the girls going in, and then a rosary procession back to
Church. The organizers obtain a permit ahead of time, so that the group is
accompanied by the police and cooperate fully with them. Many bishops have led
their people in such processions, and the power of prayer has turned many
abortion-minded women away and closed down abortion facilities. This explanation
is found on the Helpers' website:
The Helper's of God's Precious Infants are a group of people committed to
maintaining a loving and prayerful presence outside, of the abortion mills where
God's children are put to death. We unite ourselves with these victims in
solidarity with their pain, as they are put to death at this modern day Calvary.
We pray in reparation for the injustice being performed on their tiny bodies.
Just as Mary and John lovingly stood and prayed beneath Jesus' Cross as he died,
we wish to remain with these children in the hour that they we crucified.
We pray to obtain God's mercy for the abortionist and his staff who do the
killing. The message of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants to the abortionist
and all who help him to kill God's children is that, though we love them, we
will never accept what they do.
We plead with our voices for the lives of the babies being carried in by the
pregnant women who have scheduled appointments with the abortionist that day. We
ask each mother to change her mind. We reach out to her with the love of Christ;
we do not judge nor condemn her for what she is planning to do. We simply
promise her support and assistance if she should change her mind, and prayers
for her healing and conversion if she should proceed with the killing of her
Most of all, we love the unborn children who will be brought there that day.
These children have been rejected by their parents, and are doomed to die. The
only human love they may ever encounter in their short lives may be from those
of us standing outside.
B. Notes on Sidewalk Counseling
The next several pages deal with sidewalk counseling, in regard to its
legality and methodology.
One of the points that we should keep in mind is
that the amount of time that a sidewalk counselor has to speak to an
abortion-bound mother is directly dependent on how far away from the door of the
abortion facility the counselor can begin the conversation.
Now many times, because of driveways or the setup of the facility, the
counselor cannot come near the mother. (It is for this reason, of course, that
some counselors have to raise their voices to allow the mothers to know that
someone is there to offer alternatives. This leads some uninformed individuals
to claim that we "yell at" the women.)
I have witnessed other situations, however, that can provide us better access
to these mothers with just a little adjustment on our part. First of all, it may
be a good idea to station pro-life people at every stop sign and street light
within several blocks of the abortion facility, and give out pro-life literature
to each and every car. The point is that anyone driving to that abortion
facility has to pass one of those corners. Moreover, they may more willingly
take the brochures, because they will not necessarily know that the literature
being handed out has anything to do with abortion until after they accept it
(whereas two feet from the door of the abortion mill, there will be no doubt.)
Another consideration is that it is much more difficult for the abortion-minded
girl to stop and think when a crowd of people is watching her and some of them
are hurrying her inside the abortion mill. On the other hand, in the time it
takes to drive a few blocks, in the privacy of one's car, the material in a
pro-life brochure can be read and absorbed.
In using this technique, it certainly does not matter that most of the cars
may not be going to the abortion mill. So what? Distributing pro-life literature
to them too can only advance our cause.
As a related consideration, those stationed closer to the doors of the
abortion mill need to exercise good watching and "quick response." Sometimes one
can see a car parking a on the same street a half-block away. The presumption
should always be that these people are coming to the abortion mill, and the
counselor should get to that car right away, before the pro-abortion escorts do.
Sidewalk Counseling: Still a Constitutional
Free Speech Advocates
Pro-life individuals have saved countless babies and their mothers from the
horror of abortion by means of "sidewalk counseling." Sidewalk counselors stand
outside abortion facilities where they greet arriving women and their
companions. Counselors use spoken words and printed literature to provide
information about abortion risks and alternatives, with a view to helping the
expectant mother to choose life for her unborn child.
Effective sidewalk counseling can save many children from the abortionist's
knife. This means less profit for the abortion mill. As a result, many abortion
businesses have resorted to schemes to harass sidewalk counselors such as making
false accusations to the police, employing pro-abortion "escorts" to block, mock
and interfere with counselors, and filing lawsuits seeking injunctions or
damages against counselors.
More recently, the U.S. Congress passed a law—the so-called "FACE" bill --
specifically targeting pro-life protests. Then the U.S. Supreme Court, in the
Madsen case, upheld a "speech-free zone" excluding pro-life individuals from the
sidewalk outside a Melbourne, Florida abortion mill. These developments have
caused many law-abiding pro-life citizens to fear that they no longer have the
right to engage in sidewalk counseling.
In Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed an
injunction restricting pro-life activities in Melbourne, Florida. The Court's
decision, announced on June 30, 1994, upheld some restrictions and struck down
others. Several portions of the decision are of particular relevance to sidewalk
1. The Court struck down a ban on "approaching any person seeking the
services of the Clinic unless such person indicates a desire to communicate by
approaching or inquiring of the respondents." This means a ban on sidewalk
counseling is unconstitutional.
2. The Court struck down a ban on "observable images," rejecting the abortion
businesses' attempt to prohibit "disagreeable" images such as graphic pictures
or strongly worded messages on signs.
3. The Court upheld a "speech-free zone" on the public sidewalk adjacent to
an abortuary but struck down a similar zone extending onto private property. The
Court reasoned that where protesters have repeatedly used public places to
engage in unlawful obstruction of access, the protesters may be excluded from
those places. Where the protesters have not blocked access, however, a
"speech-free zone" is unconstitutional.
In sum, Madsen reaffirms that sidewalk counseling is a constitutional right
but warns that those who persistently break the law may find themselves excluded
from the sidewalk where they wish to counsel.
Sidewalk counseling = free speech
Is sidewalk counseling a constitutional right?
Yes. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the "freedom of
speech." The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that peaceful communication
—such as spoken words, display of a sign, and leafleting—are all protected forms
of free speech, especially in public places like sidewalks and parks.
What if somebody tells me to "shut up" or go away?
The right to free speech in public places does not depend upon the consent of
the listeners. Otherwise hecklers could silence any unpopular speaker. The
Supreme Court has consistently ruled that speech cannot be censored simply
because the speaker's message irritates or offends a listener. In fact, the
Supreme Court has even mentioned the phrase, "Abortion is Murder," as an example
of free speech.
The so-called Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which
President Clinton signed into law on May 26, 1994, does not prohibit sidewalk
counseling. FACE makes it a federal offense when someone "by force or threat of
force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or
interferes with" any person because that person is "obtaining or providing
reproductive health services." FACE specifically exempts "any expressive conduct
(including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected... by
the First Amendment...."
A sidewalk counselor who uses neither force, nor threats of force, nor
physical obstruction, does not violate FACE.
Sidewalk counseling remains a constitutional right. There is of course no
guarantee that sidewalk counselors will never face harassing lawsuits or false
charges. Nevertheless, the person who carefully obeys the law while sidewalk
counseling can minimize the chance of legal problems while continuing to reach
out to help mothers and their babies.
Sidewalk Counseling is still an important part of the pro-life apostolate.
P-- We make ourselves PRESENT at the place where babies are aborted. There we
PRAY for them, for their parents and all involved in performing the abortions
I -- INFORMATION is offered to the parents as they enter the abortuary. This
INFORMATION tells the truth about abortion, about the unborn child that is
aborted, about the effect of abortion on the mother and offers
A -- ALTERNATIVES to the death of that child.
Sidewalk counselors have the right to free speech and exercising this right
can save babies from abortion. But we also believe that for those babies who are
not saved, our human presence and our prayers give their short life something of
the dignity a human person deserves.
A Letter from a Grateful Mom:
Dear Sidewalk Counselor,
Sorry it took me so long to write. I wanted to wait until I got my baby boy's
pictures back. His name is D and he weighed 7 lbs., 3 ozs. and was 21 inches
long. My parents flipped at first, but now that he's here he is the best thing
that ever happened to them. I will be starting college next semester to become a
D is the best thing that ever happened to me and I have all of you to thank
for it. J (her husband) is doing fine and he sends his thanks also. I have sent
a photo of the miracle that you helped create.
Thanks. We love you,
For more information write:
Catholics United for Life
New Hope, KY 40052
Copies of this pamphlet are available for $8 per 100. Write to:
Catholics United for Life
New Hope, KY 40052
The Chicago Method
Through the use of a unique sidewalk counseling technique known as the
"Chicago Method," hundreds of pregnant mothers have been turned away from
Chicago area abortion centers. You too can be trained to save babies using this
The Chicago Method has been tried under various circumstances, varying
degrees of harassment, and varying access to abortion mill victims, and has
proven effective even under the most difficult conditions.
A Description of the Chicago Method:
When you approach the pregnant woman and her escort, say, "Excuse me. Are you
going to the medical center here? Did you know about the medical malpractice
lawsuits against this place?"
Give the pregnant woman and her escort factual information about the specific
abortuary they are about to enter. Repeat this information until it produces the
desired effect of disturbing them. Develop visual aids, such as a sheet that
summarizes the malpractice lawsuits against the mill, especially the
abortion-related lawsuits. Newspaper articles about scandalous conditions in the
abortion mill are also helpful.
After a minute or two, when the potential abortion client is sufficiently and
justifiably disturbed by negative factual information about the abortion clinic,
give her literature about an alternative center where she can go immediately for
a free pregnancy test and counseling help.
The pregnancy help agencies used in conjunction with this method will ideally
have a neutral-sounding name like "Women's Aid Center." It's purpose is to
attract and help women who are undecided about abortion or who think they need
You might mention that the alternative center is a non-profit group concerned
with women's health and safety, that it has no malpractice lawsuits against it,
and that its services are free. Encourage her to go there immediately. You might
even offer to escort her there.
At the pregnancy help agencies pro-life information and presentations are
Trouble Shooting the Method:
In situations where there is no pregnancy help agency available, use the same
technique to draw women to a nearby restaurant or coffee shop for more extensive
It is absolutely vital to the success of the technique that you not disclose
that you are an anti-abortionist or that the agency you are taking your clients
to will not give them an abortion or a referral. You need not lie to accomplish
this. Just reveal as much of the truth as you need to and no more.
It is important to meet potential turnaways as far away from the abortuary
door as possible. Walk up the sidewalk or street to meet them whenever you can.
The closer the pregnant woman gets to the abortuary door the greater the
temptation is for her to rush past you and go in. This is especially true if she
is being led in by a deathscort or boyfriend.
If a woman refuses to stop and listen to you, say something like "That place
has many lawsuits against it, Miss. We're trying to warn people about it."
Sometimes this warning will make her curious enough to come out after thinking
The "Don't kill your baby!" approach often makes future communication
difficult. Remember that at a busy abortion mill women may go in and out of the
building several times before having their abortions. They are more likely to
come out if you are not picketing or waving pro-life literature at them, telling
them not to kill their baby. Picketing and last effort tactics have their place,
but usually not in conjunction with this counseling technique.
If a woman asks you whether the alternative center does abortions, say
something like "They'll give you all the help you need. They give abortion
information and confidential medical referrals. They'll be glad to talk to you
about it, and their services are free." This is precisely the truth.
Do your best to change the subject by telling her how to get to the
alternative center. It is helpful to have professionally printed cards from the
pregnancy center that relates general facts, such as that no appointment is
needed for free confidential pregnancy tests, and that gives directions, and
hours. Let the prospective turnaways find out for themselves that the pregnancy
help center is in the business of saving lives and not destroying them.
Two counselors is the optimum number for effectively counseling one pregnant
woman. Large groups tend to intimidate her.
You should escort the turnaway to the pregnancy help center if possible. She
may need your support at this point until she can talk with the counselor at the
center. The pro-life escort should preferably be a woman, since most turnaways
will feel more comfortable going into a strange building escorted by a woman.
Do not take too much time with each client, The quicker the turnaway the
better. The average time for this method is two minutes from initial contact to
the escort phase. This will free you up to talk to other women going to the
Lawsuits are a matter of public record and are available for scrutiny and
public use at any county court house. The clerks at your court house will be
glad to tell you how to look up any lawsuit that might have been filed against
an abortion mill or abortionist. This information will help you prepare some of
the handouts that were mentioned at the beginning of this brochure.
Atrocity stories about an abortuary may have been exposed in newspaper
articles. More commonly, you will find these stories by doing some elementary
research on the malpractice lawsuits on file, or by speaking with women who have
been exploited by abortion. Use these news clips and stories.
Counselors who do not have the "gift of gab" can use the Chicago technique
effectively. It can be taught in minutes and requires absolutely no knowledge of
such subjects as fetal gynecological problems, and so on. Counselors who have
had virtually no success using the "Please don't let them kill your baby"
approach have been able to turn many women away from the mills using the Chicago
The Chicago Method rarely causes a hostile response from those who are
approached on the street as potential abortion mill clients. Because the method
is "low key," it leaves the door open to future communication with those who
enter the abortion mill and later come out because of second thoughts about the
abortion or about the safety of the abortion.
For information on the Chicago Method contact:
The Pro-Life Action League 6160 N. Cicero Ave. #600 Chicago, IL 60646 Phone
For information on establishing a pro- life pregnancy help center of the type
Pearson Institute 3195 A. South Grand Blvd., 2nd Floor St. Louis, MO 63118
Phone (314) 772-2228
For more ideas on sidewalk counseling and other effective ways to see
abortion stopped in your community, Joe Scheidler's book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop
Abortion is a must.
We acknowledge the contribution of Greg Morrow, Laura Nelson, Richard Freeman
and Dave DeFank to this Method of Sidewalk Counseling. A special thanks to
Richard Freeman for his contribution of the original text.
The Pro-Life Action League
6160 N. Cicero Ave. Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60646
Office - (773) 777-2900
Action Hotline - (312) 777-2525
C. Why Pray the Rosary at Abortion Mills?
-Fr. Frank Pavone
Prayer at abortion mills is absolutely necessary, and the Rosary is an
especially appropriate form of prayer.
We pray at these places to confront the killing, lies, and exploitation that
goes on inside. Prayer unites us to the Lord of Life, and calls Him to make
present the Victory of Life. We pray for our own conversion and for the
conversion of the mothers, the fathers, the abortionists, and the general
Why is the Rosary especially helpful?
1. The Rosary has been constantly recommended by Popes and saints. It
contains all of salvation history. It immerses us in Scripture. It has gained
great victories for Christianity through the ages.
2. The Rosary honors a Mother, and calls "blessed" the fruit of her womb.
This counteracts the abortion mentality, which sees motherhood as more of a
burden than a blessing and sees the fruit of the womb as disposable.
3. The Rosary has a calming effect as our fingers handle the beads, our lips
repeat the Hail Marys, and our mind calmly reviews the Mysteries. An abortion
mill can be a place of great tension, especially if there are
counter-demonstrators. The Rosary helps us "keep our cool."
4. In the Rosary, we proclaim that we are sinners. "Pray for us sinners."
"Forgive us our trespasses." It proves false the accusation of pro-aborts who
tell us we are "self-righteous." Rather, we are the ones who need to repent of
our negligence and inactivity regarding abortion.
5. The format of the Rosary allows everyone to participate. It can be prayed
while walking and can be adjusted to any time-frame. A practical suggestion is
to have half the group say the first part of the Hail Mary and the other half
respond. If there is only one person leading the prayer, most people cannot hear
it, especially with the noise of traffic.
Pro-lifers must never be silent! Continue to take to the streets! Continue to
save babies! Continue to pray the Rosary! Continue to wake up America about
D. Violence and Abortion
The activities we describe here have nothing to do with violence, and
abortion supporters know it.
Often enough, the general public does not. Reporting or discussion of public
demonstrations against abortion easily gets lumped together with talk of
"violence." There have been unfortunate instances of violence from both sides of
the abortion dispute. Fortunately, these have been dwarfed in number compared to
the peaceful, well-organized, family-type gatherings that occur all over the
country to call for respectful protection of the unborn.
While abortion-supporters are forced by clear evidence to increasingly admit
that pro-life people are peaceful, they are often heard claiming that the mere
fact that we claim that abortion is killing creates a "climate of violence"
against abortion providers. In fact, the Governor of Missouri, in vetoing
legislation that would ban partial-birth abortions, was reported to say that he
did so because such legislation would constitute an open invitation to
violence against abortion providers.
Subsequent to one incident in which an abortion provider was killed, I was
asked by the media what I thought of the one who shot him. "He's pro-choice," I
declared. "What do you mean," I was asked. "Well, for thirty years, the
pro-choice movement has been telling us that sometimes it's OK to end a life to
solve a problem. Now, when someone comes along and ends a life to 'solve a
problem,' he is living out the pro-choice philosophy."
We provide here some reflections on this aspect of the abortion controversy.
Whose "Rhetoric" Leads to Violence?
By: Fr. Frank A. Pavone
Take careful note of the latest tactic of the pro-abortion forces.
They cannot say that the pro-life movement promotes violence, because the
leaders of every major pro-life group in the nation have expressed their
opposition to the shooting of abortionists.
So the pro-aborts take this approach, as summarized in the New York Times of
July 30, 1994: "Opponents of choice who call physicians 'baby killers' one day
have no credibility to the next when they issue polite statements of regret
after physicians and escorts have been gunned down in cold blood," said the
statement issued by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
There it is. We oppose violence, but our message promotes it. The implication
is, "Shut up." The conclusion is, "Go away -- don't speak to anyone about
"baby-killing." It's quite a self-serving conclusion for the pro-abortion
people, of course, because if pro-lifers keep quiet, then abortion will continue
unchallenged. That's what pro-aborts have wanted all along. Now they exploit the
unfortunate shootings to their own advantage.
But whose rhetoric really fuels violence?
It is the rhetoric of "choice" that fuels violence. By exalting "choice" and
"freedom," even when the free choice is the killing of a human being, this
rhetoric degrades the value of all human life. "Abortion on demand - no
apologies." That is the rhetoric of violence. It does not deny that abortion
kills children. It simply says, "I don't care. My choice is more important than
the child's life."
It is the "pro-choice" rhetoric that promotes violence. A pro-abortion
demonstrator in Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1994 held a sign saying,
"Keep Baby-Killing Legal." He was serious. That's the message of their rhetoric.
As Mother Teresa said in Washington in February,
1994, "If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell
other people not to kill one another?"
Pro-abortion forces promote the death of a child as a solution to a woman's
problems. Can't they see that this is the same thinking by which some will then
promote the death of an abortionist as a solution to society's problems? It is
the same wrong idea that we can do evil to achieve good.
When pro-lifers call abortion the killing of a baby, they condemn such
violence. The pro-life message is a message of peace, of life, of love. It is
not mere rhetoric, it is truth. Abortion does kill a baby. Either society faces
this truth and eradicates abortion, or the killing of babies continues.
Pro-lifers are to refrain from violence. They are also to refrain from
silence. To know the truth and not speak up is irresponsible, and leaves
unchallenged the violent rhetoric of those who support abortion.
A Protective Ring or
by J.C. Willke, MD
Introductory Comment: The following article by Dr. Jack Willke
appeared in the March 1995 issue of Life Issues Connector, the quarterly
publication of Life Issues Institute. I have always agreed that the peaceful
presence of pro-life people outside abortion facilities is a deterrent to
violence. I have personally seen the effects of such peaceful activity in every
one of the 50 states, and I have personally spoken to people at the highest
levels of the US Justice Department about the fact that measures which prevent
people from intervening peacefully to save lives from abortion will increase the
chances that some will intervene violently, which is something we do not want.
Consider also, in the light of the theme of this article, the following lines
from a February 10, 1998 news report: "Richard Andrews regularly blocked the
entrances to clinics with fellow activists in protests starting in the early
1980s. In the early 1990s, a group of Washington clinics successfully sued to
stop the blockades. Soon afterward, Andrews set his first fire at a clinic in
Montana." Is there any relationship between the stopping of the peaceful
blockades and the starting of the fires? Read Dr. Willke's article, and ponder
Fr. Frank Pavone
The only sure answer to stop violence against abortion facilities and
their providers would be to eliminate its basic cause, that is, to stop killing
babies inside. Since that isn't going to happen in the near future, it is
important to closely examine such violence. I propose that sidewalk counselors
have been a "protective ring" around these facilities, and that legislative and
judicial actions that have drastically limited and even eliminated such
"protective rings" have allowed violence to escalate.
I myself have only rarely been a part of sidewalk counseling, but have been
anything but a disinterested observer. My own position has been unequivocal
condemnation of violence against the bricks and the persons in the abortion
industry. I have held no quarter for those who kill babies, but have
consistently stated that violence on the outside will never solve the violence
inside. Also, while harboring the deepest respect and admiration for those
heroic souls who have sat-in, I have had real reservations about them because of
the negative public image it has created for the pro-life movement.
This being said, let us trace a bit of history. Back in the 1970s, the
practice of picketing in front of an abortion chamber began. It spread from
location to location, and then from Saturdays only (the heavy "kill days") to
multiple days in the week. By the '80s, sidewalk counseling, as it came to be
more properly called, was a common practice throughout the U. S.
In the early '80s fire-bombing reared its head. Using the bully pulpit I had
as president of NRLC during that time, I would look directly into the lens and
say, "If any of you are thinking of fire-bombing an abortion place, please
don't. You will hurt the pro-life movement. You think you may save some babies.
For a few days in some cases you might, although those women will probably go
elsewhere. What you will do is turn public opinion against our movement and
delay the day when we can finally stop the killing completely. Remember, we are
people of peace. Our basic ethic is to stop violence, the violence that daily
kills over 4,000 unborn babies. If we adopt their evil ethic, violence, we gut
our own. Remaining peaceful is the only way we will win the minds and hearts of
the people. "
Others were saying much the same and that message slowly got through. Into
the late '80s, fire-bombing became much less frequent. We must remember that
such firebombing was always done at night, directed only against bricks, never
Then came the sit-ins. The participants were peaceful, nonviolent and
prayerful, adopting the tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King. The physical
beatings, jailing and punishment taken by the participants from police, was
clear witness to the deep dedication of those involved.
Is it a pure coincidence, in the late 1980s when the sit-ins were at their
peak, that fire-bombings sank to their lowest levels? Is it a coincidence that
by 1993, with rescues beaten back by the courts that such violent episodes had
quadrupled compared to 1988?
These peaceful sit-ins, however, were publicized by the national media as
violent events, exactly the opposite of what they actually were e.g., a local
peaceful sit-in, reported in the paper often had a picture of a burned-out
abortion mill (from a thousand miles away) printed alongside of it.
The abortion industry itself cried loudly in protest. Legislatures and judges
listened and the anti-sit-in juggernaut began to move. Jailing became more
frequent. Court-orders set boundaries. The high court ruled the RICO bill could
be used. Finally the U.S. Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act
(FACE) making sit-ins a federal felony. The result, to a significant extent, has
been to remove the "protective ring" of sidewalk counselors that had been in
front of those entrances. Most recently the violence has escalated from attacks
on the persons of the abortionists, to random shootings; from targeted reprisal
to terrorist activity.
The question is, why the escalation? A moment's reflection is relevant. There
are about 1,000 abortion facilities in the U.S. Abortion has been legal
nationwide for 22 years. Sidewalk counselors have witnessed in front of these
kill centers constantly during these years. There are intense emotional gut
issues often involved in the abortion decision and there are over 4,000 such
daily. How often could not a reaction to "her killing my baby" have caused a
rejected, unstable boyfriend or husband to literally go crazy over the
frustration, loss and anger generated and result in retaliation?
But, incredibly almost 35 million abortions, over 22 years, at 1,000
locations have resulted in—(tragically)— only five fatal retaliations. This is a
minuscule number considering the depth and power of the emotions generated.
Truly the news that ought to be publicized is not that five adults have been
killed, but that there have been only five.
Rather than indicting our entire movement because of these unbelievably few
incidents, the media should be extolling the extraordinary peaceful, nonviolent
and prayerful aspects so characteristic of this movement, utterly unique in
history, as it is. Sadly, such an evaluation has not appeared in the secular
Another answer is the obvious fact that the alleged assailants are very
likely mentally unstable and are not members of, nor representative of the
pro-life movement. All responsible leaders of the pro-life movement have
unanimously and unequivocally condemned such violence. These assailants may be
anti-abortion, but they are not prolife.
The analogy with the Black Panthers is worth recalling. Dr. Martin Luther
King adopted Gandhi's method. He insisted that the civil rights sit-ins and
demonstrations be peaceful. His supporters complied, except for the Black
Panthers. This small group sought the same goal, civil rights, but employed
violent means. They killed people. But there is a crucial difference today. Then
the media nearly unanimously supported King's efforts. The Black Panthers were
reported as a tiny extremist group not representative of the civil right's
Today the media is almost unanimously opposed to the civil right of the
unborn. Today's violent extremists have been held up as typical of the pro-life
movement rather than the aberrant, atypical, sick exceptions that they so
And what of the abortion industry's new charges that our "inflammatory
rhetoric" is precipitating these new events? This is unmitigated nonsense. It is
not because we verbally accuse them of "killing babies" that these tragedies
have occurred. No, it is because they are brutally killing babies. Our people
are just telling the truth. The pro-abortion goal here is obvious. They want to
prevent us from informing people of the true nature of their "business."
Pro-lifers should see through this immediately.
All of this having been said, however, why the current upsurge of violence?
There were just as many babies being killed annually 10 and 15 years ago as
today, but the violence today is different. Why?
To better understand this, let me cite a few experiences in one medium-size
Case 1. A distraught husband on the losing end of a furious argument with his
pregnant wife had been told by her that she was going to get the abortion. He
wanted his baby in the most profound fashion. He suspected she was getting the
abortion that day. He called the clinic. Was his wife there? They said, "No."
She was, and was being aborted at that very time. When he discovered it the man
simply "lost it." In a towering fit of anger, he went to the clinic to get even.
He was stopped by those in that "protective ring." They talked to him, calmed
him down, advised him against violence, prayed over him, with him, and then
shared his tears. He cooled off. They accompanied him home.
Case 2. I spoke to a very dedicated father of five, who has been in front of
one or another of Cincinnati's abortion mills every Saturday for the last twenty
years. He is a big man, very peaceful and religious. I asked him how many times
he himself had prevented violence over these years. He told me of several
Has it not been the same in other cities?
I suggest that this vital function of sidewalk counseling has not been
generally recognized. Yes, pro-lifers are there as a pro-life witness. Yes, they
are there to save babies. Yes, they are there to help women, before and after
the abortion. But they are also there to prevent violence. Their presence has
been a "protective ring." These peaceful, prayerful people, have undoubtedly
prevented hundreds, probably even thousands of episodes of violence.
There are many deeply dedicated pro-life people. Most feel, and rightly so,
that they have done their bit by volunteering to speak, counsel, write letters,
stuff envelopes, march in Washington, etc. But such efforts are not enough for
others. These folks feel deeply that they are called to use their own bodies to
try to stop this holocaust. Their reward is the baby and mother saved. They need
a physical and emotional outlet, and participation in sidewalk counseling for
them is not merely personally and spiritually fulfilling, but also functions as
an emotional safety valve. But, time went on. The death toll mounted. The
expectation of stopping abortion began to fade, and for many, a more activist
physical role was the response. This manifested itself in thousands of people
sitting-in. If there ever was a pressure valve, an escape valve for emotions,
sit-ins certainly provided it. How many know that over 70,000 such heroes and
heroines have been peacefully arrested compared to less than 5,000 during the
civil rights era?
But then the judicial and legislative screws were tightened. Sit-ins were
forbidden in a draconian fashion. The emotional pressure cooker, the frustration
not only continued but escalated while the pressure valve was effectively shut
off. Overwhelmingly, most pro-life people have directed their energies to other
pro-life activities, but, certain unstable few apparently have not. With this we
have seen a new escalation of violence, this time targeted at abortionists and
tragically, most recently, indiscriminately against those working in the
There is no question why the abortion industry wants that "protective ring"
removed. It is bad for business, very bad for business. It has caused them to
lose untold dollars. But having removed the "protective ring" they are now
paying a certain price. Sadly the pro-life movement is paying a far greater
price because of the portrayal of all pro-lifers by the media as terrorists.
Could it be, that the judicial, legislative and abortion industry's
"solution" to sidewalk counseling and other peaceful protest such as sit-ins has
been counter-productive, has been rather, to a large extent, the cause of much
of this escalation of violence? Could it, in fact, be pouring oil on the fire?
Could it be that the recent violence is, in considerable measure, a result of
the suppression of peaceful, prayerful protest outside of abortion facilities?
Could it be that if that "protective ring" was still there, that these
tragically unbalanced, unstable, atypical individuals would have been "caught, "
counseled, cooled off, steered away, prevented from doing what they planned?
Jack Kennedy's words back then are worth remembering. "If peaceful protest is
made illegal, violent protest will become inevitable."
Priests for Life encourages you to use the resources of Life Issues
Institute, 1721 W. Galbraith Rd., Cincinnati, OHIO 45239, Phone 513-729-3600,
Fax 513-729-3636, Email LifeIssues@aol.com
WE WILL NOT GO AWAY
Note: Every time there is an incident of violence against an abortionist,
abortion-rights leaders throughout the country blame peaceful pro-life street
activity for what happened. In response to this reaction, the following
statement was issued in 1994 by pro-life leaders, both rejecting violence and
refusing to be accused of promoting precisely what we reject. It is interesting
to note, furthermore, that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had to respond to
the same criticisms when violence on the part of some in the civil rights
movement was blamed on the peaceful activity he was organizing.
The recent violent acts of a few people have made some question whether
pro-lifers should continue their street activities.
We first of all reject violence as a solution to any problem. Pro-life people
who choose to kill are being inconsistent. Pro-abortion people who lament the
killings are also inconsistent because they tolerate daily killing of babies.
The only consistent and correct position is to reject both the violence of
shooting and the violence of abortion. That is the position we take.
Pro-life "rhetoric," furthermore, is not a cause of violence. To say
"abortion kills babies" is not "rhetoric"; it is truth. To be silent would be
irresponsible, and it is not an option.
In reality, "pro-choice" rhetoric fuels
violence, because it says life may be destroyed at will.
The pro-life message needs to be proclaimed on the public streets of America.
The biggest mistake prolife people could make at this moment is to retreat from
the streets. To do so would deprive countless people of hearing the pro-life
message, would lead to the loss of many lives that can be saved by prayerful
presence and counseling at abortion mills, and would
create a vacuum which would likely be filled by more violent activity.
Throughout world history, social reform has been effected by people bringing
their message to the streets in organized non-violent ways. This is the moment
to increase such activity. The First Amendment of the US Constitution
guarantees the rights of Americans to do so, even when their message is one
of great controversy.
Pro-life presence in the streets, furthermore, does not have to be limited to
the abortion mills. Presence at the mills is essential, but the women who buy
abortions do not live at these places. They are in every community and
neighborhood. By spreading the truth on every street corner, pro-lifers can save
lives and help persuade the public that violence is never a solution. We intend
to plan, promote, and intensify peaceful, prayerful and legal pro-life
street activity throughout the nation. We will not stop it until abortion
If America wants to reject violence, let it reject abortion without further
Fr. Frank Pavone National Director, Priests for Life
Fr James Heyd
Rev. Flip Benham
Fr Charles Fiore
Rev Keith Tucci
Dr. Curtis I Harris
J Randy Hinsely
Revs Gordon & Nancy Peterson
Fr. Paul Marx
Fr Matthew I Habiger
Monsignor Phillip Reilly
Theo Sterns I .O.P.
Fr Ivan Rovera
Rev Johnny Hunter
Rev. Kirk Heldreth
Edward J. Martin
Chris & Joan Bell
Rev Michael S Warren
Timothy R Fix
Mercedes Arzu Wilson
Jerome F Coniker
Rev Gerald Frank
Rev. James J Pinto
Rev Terry Gensemer
Rev Michael McHugh
Rusty Lee Thomas
Robert Peters, Esq.
J T. Finn
Rev Michael G. I Haley
Rev Robert Schenck
Tim & Terry Palmquists
Robert E Cooley
Mr. Gerry Zeller
Rev. Daniel Vinzant
Fr. Francis Butler
E. The Civil Rights Movement
Note: Priests for Life invites pro-lifers and other members of our
nation today to reread these historic letters, and see how many powerful
parallels there are at this moment between the principles Dr. King enunciated in
his quest for racial justice, and the principles the pro-life movement
enunciates in the quest for justice for the unborn. Note also the similarity of
so many of the criticisms leveled against Dr. King and his co-workers with the
criticisms of pro-life people, especially those who directly intervene to save
the lives of the unborn.
We are committed, over three decades after this letter was written, to
applying its wisdom to the eradication of abortion from our land. We have the
same sense of confidence which comes through in Dr. King's letter, that the day
of justice for the unborn will not long be delayed.
Fr. Frank Pavone
The following is the public statement directed to Martin Luther King, Jr., by
eight Alabama clergymen:
We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "an
appeal for law and order and common sense," in dealing with racial problems in
Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters
could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those
courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.
Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a
willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on
various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent
public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new
constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.
However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our
Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural
impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But
we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.
We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for
honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this
kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own
metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience
of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find
proper channels for its accomplishment.
Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in
our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as
incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may
be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not
believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified
We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law
enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these
demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show
restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials
to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.
We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from
these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better
Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in
the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We
appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law
and order and common sense.
Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Milton L.
Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Nolan B. Harmon, Rev. George M.
Murray, Rev. Edward V. Ramage, Rev. Earl Stallings
April 12, 1963
Dr. King's Response: The Letter from a
April 16, 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent
statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause
to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the
criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for
anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would
have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine
good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to
answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham since you have been
influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the
honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
an organization operating in every southern state. with headquarters in Atlanta.
Georgia, We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South. and
one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for human Rights. Frequently we
share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several
months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in
a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily
consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with
several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here
because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here, just as the
prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus
saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the
Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ
to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the
gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond
to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and
states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens
in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are
caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of
destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can
we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone
who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere
within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, But your
statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the
conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you
would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that
deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is
unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the
facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and
direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham There can be
no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham
is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly
record of brutality is widely known, Negroes have experienced grossly unjust
treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes
and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the
hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders
sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused
to engage in good-faith negotiation.
Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of
Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain
promises were made by the merchants- for example, to remove the stores'
humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred
Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights
agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations, As the weeks and months went by,
we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly
removed, returned; the others remained.
As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of
deep disappointment settled upon us, We had no alternative except to prepare for
direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our
case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of
the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of
self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we
repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?"
'Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail? We decided to schedule our
direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for
Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong
economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt
that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for
the needed change.
Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in
March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When
we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had
piled up enough votes to be in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action
until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to
cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to
this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this
community need, we felt that our direct-action program could he delayed no
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth?
Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for
negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent
direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a
community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the
issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My
citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister
may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word
"tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of
constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates
felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals
could rise from the bondage of myths and half- truths to the unfettered realm of
creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for
nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men
rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of
understanding and brotherhood.
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so
crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore
concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland
been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my
associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked; "Why didn't
you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can
give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded
about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if
we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium
to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor,
they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo, I
have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of
massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure
from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not
made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent
pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom
give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and
voluntarily give up their unjust posture but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded
us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by
the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to
engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well- timed" in the view of those
who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I
have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing
familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see,
with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given
rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet speed toward gaining
political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward
gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who
have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you
have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your
sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse,
kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast
majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of
poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue
twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old
daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been
advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told
that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of
inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to
distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white
people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is
asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you
take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to deep night after night in
the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;
when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and
"colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes
"John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs.";
when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a
Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect
next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are
forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" -- then you will
understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of
endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss
of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws, This
is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey
the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public
schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to
break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and
The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and
unjust, I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a
legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral
responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an
unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a
law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral
law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the
moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a
human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that
uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is
unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the
soul and damages the personality. it gives the segregation a false sense of
superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use
the terminology of' the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. substitutes an "I-it"
relationship for an "I -thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the
status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and
sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said
that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's
tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is
that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is
morally right and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances. for they
are morally wrong.
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust
law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group
to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By
the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to
follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a
minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in
enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which
set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout
Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming
registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes
constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can
any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For
instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now,
there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a
parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain
segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful
assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no
sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid
segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do
so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that
an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who
willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience
of' the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest
respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was
evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the
laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It
was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry
lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain
unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality
today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the
Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf -Hitler did in Germany was
"legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was
"illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even
so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and
comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where
certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly
advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely
disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable
conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom
is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white
moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative
peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence
of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I
cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes
he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical
concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more
convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more
frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm
acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist
for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose
they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social
progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present
tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious
negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a
substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and
worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action
are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden
tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen
and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up
but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and
light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to
the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be
condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?
Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money
precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates
because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries
precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink
hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God -consciousness
and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of
crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the Federal courts have consistently
affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his
basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society
must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning
time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from
a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored
people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in
too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years
to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth."
Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely
irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will
inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral: it can be used
either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of
ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and
actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the
tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard
work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation, We must
use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending
national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood, Now is the time to lift our
national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather
disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of
an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two
opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up
in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained
of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to
segregation; and in part of the few middle-class Negroes who, because of a
degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by
segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other
force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to
advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups
that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah
Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the
continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people
who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and
who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate
neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the
black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent
protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church,
the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I
am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our
white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us
who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our
nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair,
seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies - a development that
would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom
eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American
Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and
something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or
unconsciously he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist and with his black brothers
of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the
Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency
toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge
that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public
demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and
latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make
prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to
understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in
nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a
threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "get rid of your
discontent;" rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent
can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now
this approach is being termed extremist.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist,
as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of
satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for
them which despitefully use you and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist
for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an
ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I
bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an
extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John
Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of
my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and
half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that
all men are created equal..." So the question is not whether we will be
extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for
hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for
the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men
were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same
crime, the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell
below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love,
truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South,
the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white Moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too
optimistic perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that
few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate
yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that
injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am
thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the
meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still
all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph
McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah
Patton Boyle have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms.
Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have
languished in filthy roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of
policemen who view them as 'dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their
moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment
and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of
Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly
disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some
notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken
some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for
your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship
service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state
for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.
But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been
disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics
who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of
the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been
sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as
the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in
Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white
church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would
be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents,
refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all
too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent
behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the
white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause
and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just
grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would
understand. But again I have been disappointed.
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to
comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to
hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally
right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices
inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline
and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a
mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard
many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real
concern," and I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely
otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between
body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other
southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have
looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing
heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious
education buildings, Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of
people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of
Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where
were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred?
Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women
decided to rise from the dark dungeons of' complacency to the bright hills of
creative protest?" Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep
disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my
tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there
is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do Otherwise? I am in the
rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of
preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have
blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being
There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when the
early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they
believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded
the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that
transformed the mires of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town,
the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the
Christian for being "disturbers of the peace" and outside agitators. But the
Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "A colony of heaven,"
called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in
commitment, They were too God- intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated."
By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as
infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak,
ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the
status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power
structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent -and often
even vocal-sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church
does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its
authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant
social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young
people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too
inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I
must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the, church within the church,
as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God
that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose
from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the
struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the
streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the
South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some
have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops
and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is
stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that
has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have
carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.
But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair
about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in
Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the
goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation because the goal of
America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up
with America's destiny. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here.
Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of
Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two
centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton
king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and
shameful humiliation -- and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to
thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us,
the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the
sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our
Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement
that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police
force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have
so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their
teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly
commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment
of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old
Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old
Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two
occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together.
I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling
the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "non
violently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of
segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that
nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I
have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral
ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so,
to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his
policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in
Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain
the immoral end of racial injustice. As T S. Eliot has said: "The last
temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham
for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing
discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize
its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of
purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the
agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be
old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman
in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people
decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical
profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my
soul is at rest"; they will be the young high school and college students, the
young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and
nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for
conscience's sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited
children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for
what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian
heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy
which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the
Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long
to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much
shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do
when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think
long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and
indicates an unreasonable impatience. I beg you to forgive me. If I have said
anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that
allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that
circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an
integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a
Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will
soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our
fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant
stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
F. A Recent Letter
In the process of updating this brochure, we came across this letter to
the editor which appeared in the National Catholic Register in December of 1999.
It raises an important point for our consideration.
Respect Sidewalk Rescuers
The Register's …[recent article on prayer vigils at abortion mills]…
insinuated that …[the approach being described]… shows the face of Christ to
everyone involved with abortion while Operation Rescue had a "take-no-prisoners"
style. This is a very false and prejudicial characterization of rescues and the
rescue movement. When a person lays his body down before the door of an abortion
center, he is performing a sacrificial act of love in defense of the unborn
scheduled to die and also for the mother who is about to aid in the killing her
own child. The rescue movement was never about militancy or "taking no
prisoners." No matter the media image, rescuers were and are extremely peaceful
and loving and bore the brunt of excessive police brutality in their efforts to
protect the unborn. A rescue is a further act of defense for the unborn - it is
a loving and necessary act that says we will, with complete nonviolence, not
simply allow the unborn to be put to death.
While the rescue movement is accused of militancy by its enemies, it is
especially painful to hear pro-lifers insinuate that rescues are not prayerful
or loving actions. We should not get sucked into bashing one pro-life activity
in order to promote our own.
It's easy to bash rescues nowadays since so few of them take place because
the federal government did all it could to shut the rescue movement down, thus
making rescues unpopular because of the sacrifices it takes to do them. All that
is needed to do rescues now is courage. As a front page Register article in the
same issue demonstrates ("Court Restricts Pro-Lifers Who Carry Graphic Signs"),
perhaps even picketing with the signs of aborted babies will become illegal if
the California courts have their way. Will we then hear pro-lifers criticize
picketing and accuse it of being un-Christlike witness in favor of staying in
Church and praying?
Despite…[their] loving presence, even [those who simply stand and pray have
been] accused of harassing women and …[are] being sued by the National
Organization for Women under RICO [Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations
Act] and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Years ago no one ever
pitted rescues against sidewalk counseling or vice versa. Both are acts of love
in defense of life.
Monica Migliorino Miller
Citizens for a Pro-Life Society
G. The "Prodigal Project"
One of the newest things people can do in front of abortion facilities is to
handout brochures designed for the staff of the facility. A group of former
abortion providers, called the "Society of Centurions," has begun an outreach to
the men and women who provide abortions, telling them they can get out of that
ugly work and find peace again in their lives. The Centurions know, because they
have been there themselves.
These brochures should be given to anyone at all who works in any way in the
abortion facility: doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, security guards,
etc. They have already been used with a great effect, and at one abortion mill
several workers left as a result.
Abortion destroys not only the babies and their families, but also the people
who perform them. Such people need to know that the pro-life movement cares
about them, and will help them to find forgiveness and peace, just as the
Prodigal Son did (Luke 15).
Write to us at Priests for Life to obtain your set of brochures for the
Prodigal Project (PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314), and pray for the
success of this effort!