I offer two comments on James Nuechterlein's otherwise excellent column on the O. J. Simpson verdict (“O. J. Simpson & the American Dilemma,” December 1995). Mr. Nuechterlein makes two assertions in his article that echo commonly held opinions in the media and society in general.
1. That O.J. Simpson was “obviously guilty” and that the verdict therefore reveals that the jurors willfully suspended “rational deliberation” to “reflexively side with ‘one of their own.'“
2. That defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran “grotesquely” equated Mark Fuhrman's racism with Hitler's anti-Semitism.
Mr. Nuechterlein is not alone in these viewpoints, but I think their acceptance as obvious and common wisdom ought to be challenged.
Regarding the first: I do not accept that the jury's decision was an obvious suspension of rational judgment and an obvious identification with “one of their own.” Simply by the numbers this assertion is wrong; one-fourth of the jury, it ought to be remembered, belonged to the Caucasian race—more than enough to make for a hung jury. I find it hard to believe that a jury would spend three-fourths of a year cut off from home and work and family, watching such a soap opera of a trial, only to cast reason and civic responsibility aside to return a verdict of not guilty. I believe they decided the case on its merits and by the standard of assurance of guilt required: “beyond reasonable doubt.” If one does not agree with them, at least one can respect their integrity in reaching the decision. (Personally, I never thought O. J. committed the crime.)
Regarding the second assertion: The comparison is not so overdrawn as one might at first believe. There is an unfortunate tendency to think that a Hitler and the Holocaust is something that could happen only to Jews. I suggest that the only difference between the “rogue cop” Fuhrman and the “ex-rogue painter” Hitler is one of relative power. Hitler, simply, was able to acquire the power to put his sick racist ideas into practice. We ought not forget that Hitlers do not appear overnight, out of nowhere; they arise from the common sea of humanity, which can produce both saints like Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Martin Luther King, and sinners like Mark Fuhrman.
Otherwise, Mr. Nuechterlein's article is a fine piece and echoes exactly some of the themes I included in sermons the Sundays after the trial; on these two issues, however, I think he was guided more by popular opinion than serious reflection.
(The Rev.) Daniel V. Biles III
Bendersville Lutheran Parish
James Nuechterlein says that the defendant was “obviously guilty,” and calls the evidence against him “overwhelming.”
As a former First Assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia, and leading counsel on one side or the other in many murder trials, I disagree. Where there is no eyewitness and no confession, as in the Simpson trial, evidence is seldom “overwhelming.” The prosecution presented against Mr. Simpson a diligently assembled circumstantial case, but again and again the question of its believability came back to the believability of the Los Angeles police.
For example, the prosecution relied on the testimony of experts as to which body certain blood specimens came from. The experts, we may hope, were honest. But for each such specimen of blood, the jury had only the word of the Los Angeles police as to whether it had been found at the crime scene or was instead a portion of the blood taken by the police from Mr. Simpson's person upon his (voluntary) return from Chicago. And from their years of residence in Los Angeles, jurors were on notice that the word of Los Angeles police was suspect; indeed—as Detective Fuhrman has confirmed—that it has been commonplace for Los Angeles police to perjure themselves in order to convict African Americans if they deem them to be guilty.
Thus Mr. Simpson's blood, said by the police to have been found at the crime scene, may not have been found there at all, and the edifice of expert testimony stood on a foundation of sand.
This is a case in which the defendant may or may not have been guilty. If the jurors lacked faith in the police, and if much of the prosecution's case was believable only if the police were to be trusted, who are we to say that the unanimous doubt of the jurors was unreasonable? Unlike the rest of us, the jurors, black and white, were able to hear, observe, and appraise all the testimony of every witness.
Michael von Moschzisker
James Nuechterlein's article overlooks the fact that “the race card” was played from the beginning, and Fuhrman's entry really made no difference in the verdict.
The fix was in even before the minority-ridden defense, the minority- ridden prosecution, and the minority judge began the trial. Los Angeles, that former great city turned urban disaster through “multiculturalism,” wanted no repeat of the billion-dollar Rodney King riot, with its loss of fifty-three lives.
Instead of holding the trial in Santa Monica, where Brentwood crimes are supposed to be tried and the jury pool is overwhelmingly white, District Attorney Gil Garcetti moved the case downtown. On the slight chance that O. J. might be found guilty, the verdict could then be blamed on a largely black jury. Despite all the evidence presented that proved beyond any reasonable juror's reasonable doubts that O. J. was indeed guilty as sin, no black juror could dutifully cast a guilty vote and then return to his or her ghetto and face his or her brothers and sisters.
The pretrial wheeling and dealing in the Simpson case amounted to an outright perversion of our legal system, and it led inexorably to one of the great perversions of justice in our time. . . .
Edward J. Toner, Jr.
. . . What makes Mr. Simpson's guilt obvious? Why, DNA, “scientific evidence.” It merely confirms, however, the scientific “fact” (social science this time) that wife-beaters murder their wives. Any evidence to the contrary, such as the Fuhrman story, shows only the sly cleverness of defense attorneys, even though a number of policemen in New York and Philadelphia are right now standing trial for planting evidence.
I am an old white lady, a Southerner, not a football or television or advertising fan. I had never heard of O. J. Simpson before every conversation I took part in brought home my woeful ignorance. I even watched the trial occasionally, though for the most part I relied on newspaper reports. After the verdict, my friends wore long faces of mourning, and their private reactions mirrored those of the whole country—except black folk, of course.
If we are to bridge the gulf between the races that everybody now talks about as compulsively as the trial, we ought to introduce some new subject matter. How about the fact that from the beginning the Simpson case has been wrested from the realm of justice and made a feminist cause; thinking Mr. Simpson guilty is dogma for orthodox sisters and fellow-travelers. Even to express doubt has become tantamount to favoring wife-beating. . . .
It is far safer to talk about the “gulf between the races” than to bring up science's unauthoritative authority or the slash-and-burn tactics of zealous feminists, but might we at least wonder why most blacks remain skeptical of the conventional wisdom?
Eloise K. Goreau
I appreciate Pastor Daniel V. Biles' kind words, but at the risk of appearing ungracious, I must take exception to his criticisms. I did not say that the black members of the jury reflexively sided “with one of their own.” I said that of black Americans in general, adding that “that sort of instinctive solidarity is quite understandable.” My dismay was over the widespread sense in the black community that this is “a pervasively racist society in which a conspiracy in the white legal establishment to convict an innocent black is not simply plausible but in fact reflects the normal course of affairs.” I then added that “it is only in this context that the Simpson jury's apparent willingness to accept the defense's unsubstantiated charges of evidence-planting makes sense.” For the record, the composition of the jury was nine blacks, two Hispanics, and one non-Hispanic white. Pastor Biles speaks of the jury's “integrity”: Is that the right word for a group that barely deliberated over the mountain of evidence before it?
As for the Hitler-Fuhrman comparison, “grotesque” is indeed the appropriate term. Fuhrman said vile things about blacks, as had countless others before him. Countless people have also said vile things about Jews; Hitler was directly responsible for the murder of six million of them. Need more be said?
Michael von Moschzisker argues, as did the Simpson defense, that the prosecution's case failed because the Los Angeles police could not be trusted. Surely he does not mean that it is legitimate for jurors to vote to acquit on nothing more than a generalized suspicion of police behavior. They have the duty to attend to the facts of the case before them. Anyone who observed the trial with attention could see that the defense relied not on specific evidence of police misbehavior but on loose charges of conspiracy. By Mr. von Moschzisker's line of reasoning, no criminal jury in Los Angeles should ever convict any minority defendant who does not confess or is not caught in the act. In this particular case, the evidence—a good deal of which the police could not conceivably have planted—was indeed “overwhelming.”
Edward J. Toner, Jr. has his own conspiracy theories, only in his scenario—if I read him correctly—the prosecution rigged its own defeat (“the fix was in”) by trying the case in downtown Los Angeles before a mostly black jury because city officials, including the District Attorney, feared another Rodney King riot. Mr. Toner blames this, it seems, on “multiculturalism,” which I concede has a lot to answer for, but according it responsibility for O. J. Simpson's acquittal seems a bit of a stretch.
Eloise K. Goreau oddly equates real science—in this case, DNA evidence—with the pseudo-science of feminist dogma. But there is a difference. Wife-beaters may or may not become wife-killers; DNA dependably indicates whose blood is whose. You don't need to be a feminist to believe that O. J. Simpson did in fact kill his wife.
I am amazed at the semantic gymnastics employed by Clarke D. Forsythe in his essay “Doing What Can Be Done” (December 1995).
As someone who embraces the pro-life principle that each and every innocent human being is a child of God, worthy of total protection in a truly just society, allow me to point out that too many years of failed strategy and tactics are at the root of the problems we now face as a movement. I do not judge the intention of a pro-lifer who truly believes that he or she is doing the best that can be done, but along with many in this movement, I do question maneuvers like those employed during the long campaign to pass a so-called partial-birth abortion ban. Such tactics are indicative of a malaise in much of the politically driven segment of the pro-life movement.
The U.S. Supreme Court has embraced the wanton killing of innocent children as a “right” belonging only to the mother. At the same time, however, the reality of what abortion has done to our society, to our families, and to our sensitivity has not gone unnoticed. Though some in the pro-life movement have come to believe that politics is the only road, and that it is the politicians themselves who should establish the moral ground on which the rest of us must stand if we wish to avoid extending “the reign of the abortion terror,” as Mr. Forsythe describes it, others realize that the best way to challenge the crime of abortion is by demanding that it be stopped in its totality.
While some are working to ban a particular abortion procedure (partial-birth abortion) that accounts for less than 1 percent of all child- killings in this nation, the proponents of abortion are busy refining other ways to kill those same children. Are we blind? Are we so desperate for a political victory that we have lost sight of what is going on around us in the culture, in society, in our own slowly decaying movement?
How dare any one of us use The Gospel of Life to defend our own inability to see these problems! Pope John Paul II, in Section 73 of the Gospel of Life, addresses politicians whose total opposition to abortion is well known, statesman who have battled to protect all the children and find themselves in a difficult position of having to possibly vote for something quite different from that which they set out to accomplish. The partial-birth abortion ban does not fit the criteria at all; in fact, it fits no criteria other than the incrementalist view that we can set aside millions of children scheduled for death while we work very hard to appease the political atmosphere in which we find ourselves by providing elected officials with a safe haven that they can use in order to be reelected. . . .
As John Paul II says in The Gospel of Life, “In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking.”
President American Life League, Inc.
Several years ago as a pro-life lobbyist I discussed the question of conscience and compromise with my bishop in great detail. Since his position was essentially the same as the paragraph of Evangelium Vitae quoted by Clark Forsythe in “Doing What Can Be Done,” the bishop's more detailed explanation may be helpful. Here is his scenario:
A bill containing a small concession is introduced by abortion proponents. Pro-lifers cannot support the bill since it violates pro-life principle. However, a pro-life legislator who makes every effort to improve the bill but who realizes after counting the votes that his improved bill cannot pass is allowed to vote for the original bill since it may save some babies. The pro-life legislator must publicly explain his vote so that there will be no cause for scandal.
Forsythe takes this “conscience clause,” written specifically for the legislator who must vote yea or nay on a less than pro-life bill, and uses it to excuse the pro-life organization sponsoring the bill that violates pro-life principle—the bill that causes the legislator to need a “conscience clause.”
Why? The excuse given by Forsythe is that there are “constitutional and political” limitations that must be recognized, even though he says they must “ultimately” be overcome.
But when is “ultimately”? Those so-called “constitutional” limitations were imposed some twenty-three years ago and they will not be removed by the recognition, however grudging, of the pro-life movement. Those who have already waited more than two decades for “ultimately” believe they have a right and a duty to object strenuously when other pro-lifers offer an affirmative defense for the deliberate killing of a preborn child. Whether this defense will be used is not the question. The question is what the pro-life movement actually believes about the sacredness of the preborn child's life and about the deliberate taking of that life.
For thousands of babies, “ultimately” happens every day, but if the pro-life movement has become “a carping sideshow,” it may have less to do with the complaints of “all or nothing” pro-lifers and more to do with Forsythe and his friends refusing to support—or even acknowledge—proposed legislation such as HR 1625, which might overcome those “constitutional” limitations we hear so much about.
HR 1625, introduced by a pro-life Congressman, simply states that the constitutional guarantee of the right to life is vested in each human being at fertilization.
It can't be passed? At least it would educate the public correctly: that our Constitution guarantees the right to life of every human being and that abortion is the aberration—not the all or nothing pro-lifers.
North Troy, VT
I would like to thank Marie Dietz and Judie Brown for their letters because an ongoing dialogue on pro-life strategy is important.
Neither responds to my legal or constitutional arguments, except to dismiss them as “excuses.” They imply that these obstacles are to be ignored or avoided because the constraints draw a political actor into “violating pro-life principle.” This moral framework is incorrect, and the Pope's passage in section 73, fully understood, explains why. Unfortunately, that framework means that pro-life political actors cannot work effectively in the American policy process, where—by the design of a federal structure and the separation of powers—progress comes, if at all, by “incrementalist” steps.
As to their moral arguments, the scenario posed by Ms. Dietz's bishop is both too abstract and too simplistic to provide clear moral guidance for analyzing the partial-birth abortion bill. It is too abstract because it disregards the role of the courts in American society and assumes that the legislature has the final say. In our federal system, the obstacles that legislators must consider (to be effective and avoid futility) include whether the bill will survive court review and actually take effect. Nevertheless, if any analogy can be drawn, the pro-abortion legal status quo under Roe v. Wade would be “improved” by a law-such as the partial-birth abortion ban-”limiting the harm done” by singling out and banning one particular type of abortion procedure.
The scenario is too simplistic because it assumes that a legislator can count every vote with certainty ahead of time, make an easy decision between two (and only two) clear alternatives, with plenty of time to cast a decisive vote. The process in the U.S. Congress is not that simple, and the process in the state legislatures is often more complicated. Thus, the real obstacles that political actors face are more complicated than the bishop's scenario supposes.
For example, the political constraints on passing the partial-birth abortion bill were real. Since my article was published, the bill passed the Senate by a slim margin and a pro-abortion amendment to gut the bill by replacing the “life of the mother affirmative defense” with a broad “health” exception was defeated by only the narrowest of margins. Even so, the life of the mother affirmative defense was weakened to become a real exception.
Ms. Dietz's distinction between legislators and organizations in the movement suggests an overly narrow understanding of a social reform movement—the notion that legislators can morally act to achieve less than everything in the legislature but that the movement on the outside must march in lockstep under a banner of “no compromise.” These sharp moral categories are not compelled by section 73. Social reform movements are, of necessity, more complex, and that complexity reflects the different facets of political action in a democratic republic. An effective social reform movement contains political activists and strategists, grass roots organizers, scholars, lawyers, writers, and political leaders, among others. There is a critical role for those who would constantly hold up the highest standard and measure progress against that standard (the “no compromisers”), but if legislators are to “achieve the greatest measure of justice that the world in which they are acting admits,” there is a legitimate and necessary role for other actors who can equip those legislators to achieve less than all.
Ms. Dietz asserts that I have “refus[ed] to support—or even acknowledge” HR 1625. In fact, the sponsor never sent HR 1625 to me, and I have never been asked to support or acknowledge it.
In response to Ms. Brown, I submit that a sound moral argument must fairly take account of practical constraints (what she seems to scorn as “politics”). To reiterate, “The wise statesman will act to achieve the greatest measure of justice that the world in which he is acting admits.” In so acting it must be remembered, as Aristotle noted in his Ethics, that “actions done under constraint . . . are involuntary.” And as Thomas Reid, appealing to the same tradition, stated, “What is done from unavoidable necessity . . . cannot be the object either of blame or moral approbation.” Hence, by “limiting the harm done” or “lessening the negative consequences,” we do not admit or support the rest of the evil that we do not have the power (legal or political) to touch now. Recognizing that an abortion is already authorized by overarching (more powerful) law (i.e., Roe v. Wade) does not constitute cooperation with, or participation in, any abortion. And I take section 73 in the Pope's encyclical to agree with this. I stand ready to be corrected by a closely reasoned moral argument, but Ms. Brown does not make it.
If she is making the prudential argument that promoting the partial-birth abortion legislation did more damage than good because of the “life of the mother affirmative defense,” I submit that just the opposite is true. First, “at the level of general opinion” (to use the Pope's phrase), the partial-birth abortion bill has educated the public about the humanity of the unborn child, the breadth of the abortion license, and the brutal nature of that procedure, while less than .001 of 1 percent of Americans have read the affirmative defense that troubles Ms. Brown. Second, one of the primary arguments by abortion advocates in Congress was that the bill was only “a first step in prohibiting abortion,” so it was publicly known that the pro-life sponsors and the movement viewed this bill as less than ideal.
As I understand it, Ms. Brown's position is that including a “life of the mother exception” in legislation is immoral under any circumstances and that an “equal care for both mother and child” position must always be included. Such a categorical position does not take account of political and legal constraints and is not morally correct.
Further dialogue on the morality and medical feasibility of these two positions would be worthwhile. As a practical matter, however, the “equal care” position will not advance the public debate in the near future because it is too abstract to engage or answer the more practical concerns that Americans have with restoring prohibitions against abortion. Public opinion is burdened by many other myths and falsehoods that must first be dismissed.
Finally, concerning Ms. Brown's reference to “our own slowly decaying movement,” I would encourage her to tour the country to see the infusion of young people into the movement and to observe the fresh and creative initiatives by pro-life leaders in advertising, education, direct services to women and children, and public policy.
I have just read with interest Elizabeth Powers' article “Habermas on the Upper West Side” (December 1995).
I would like to invite Ms. Powers to leave the Upper West Side of New York City, where she is so manifestly dissatisfied with the neighbors she has to put up with, and return to her roots in the South. In any large Southern city she will be able to acquaint herself with an upper class of citizenry that will equal or surpass her current neighbors in their materialism, excessive public and private volubility, poor child-rearing practices, and aversion to religion. Only those prospective neighbors will vote Republican, dislike the Clintons as much as she does, and regard Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich as their politically correct role models. . . .
In any event, I wish and pray for Ms. Powers that she find a place to live where she can engage in a more healthy and productive life than the one she now leads. In a more congenial setting perhaps she could give up skulking about her neighborhood finding things and people to dislike, taking furtive notes to document her neighbors' depravity and silliness, and writing articles that in the end do not convince one that she is anything more than a surly misanthrope with a political agenda.
While reading Michael W. McConnell's comments in the symposium on “Religion and the Court 1995” (December 1995), I was reminded of a friend who was a staffer in the House of Representatives in the late 1980s. At the time, the House was considering an (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to nationalize child care, known as the “ABC Bill.” My friend's boss was unhappy with the idea, partly because churches might have been denied federal funding for their own child care services, and might have been driven out of business by secular providers who did get federal money.
The office was visited by a lobbyist for the National Education Association, which was supporting the ABC Bill. When my friend mentioned the problem with churches not getting the federal money, the lobbyist replied, in an offhand way, that churches probably could get it, but that “they would have to be sterilized.” Sterilized. Purged of all religious content: no Bibles, no hymnals, no religious pictures on the wall. To this lobbyist, religion was on the same level as a virus.
This militant antireligion view is not very far from the Rosenberger dissenters, and it has shown up as public policy in other areas. I mention this because, as Mr. McConnell observed, “government pervades more and more of our (formerly private) lives,” and where the government goes, it takes the First Amendment with it. . . .
Alexander T. Nagy
I am pleased that Richard John Neuhaus (“The Work of God,” November 1995) finds me “often fair-minded,” though I suspect that is only when my views mirror his—as they often do.
That he detects a “long-standing hostility to Opus Dei” is not quite fair-minded of Father Neuhaus. My writing about Opus Dei has focused almost entirely on the beatification of its founder, not the organization itself. On this point, the only fair-minded conclusion I can reach, given the evidence of the positio itself and interviews with people in Rome involved in the process, is that Opus Dei subverted the canonization process to get its man beatified. In a word, it was a scandal—from the conduct of the tribunals through the writing of the positio to the high-handed treatment of the experts picked to judge the cause. That Newsweek caught Opus Dei officials making claims that were not true is a matter of record. Escriva may have been a saint—who am I to judge?—but you could never tell from the way his cause was handled.
Then, too, there is the matter of the banality of his writings, especially the axioms. Not the sort of stuff, I think, to build a spiritual community around. As for the organization itself, I'm sure it meets the needs of some Catholics. But as a parent, I am naturally inclined to worry about its methods and to take more seriously than does Father Neuhaus the complaints of those who feel they have lost a child to the organization. I, too, thought Jim Martin did a good job in his America piece, and am sorry only that so many folks felt they could not speak on the record. Whatever else it does, Opus Dei strikes fear in the timid and the mitered.
I've met some likable people in Opus Dei but I'd hate to have my daughter marry one. To be fair-minded, I wouldn't want her to wed a Jesuit either, though I hope she'd ask one to say the nuptial mass.
Kenneth L. Woodward
New York, NY
Richard Neuhaus' comments on the “Cry for Renewal” (Public Square, November 1995) present a classic case of distortion.
Fr. Neuhaus seeks to identify The Cry largely with mainline Protestant leaders like Episcopal Bishop Edmond Browning and the NCC's Joan Campbell. One would wish Fr. Neuhaus would get his facts correct. Evangelical leaders were centrally engaged in drafting the document. They were the largest group participating at the May 1995 launch. Signers included Stephen Hayner, the President of the largest evangelical university student movement (IVCF); prominent evangelical pastors Gordon MacDonald and David Fisher; leading evangelical women (Roberta Hestenes, former chair of World Vision International); prominent evangelical African American and Hispanic leaders (William Pannell, Luis Madrigal, Eldin Villafane); the two top leaders of the largest evangelical grassroots community development program (John Perkins, Wayne Gordon from CCDA); prominent evangelical publishers (Bruce Ryskamp of Zondervan); the head of the Salvation Army in the U.S. (Commissioner Kenneth L. Hodder); and many other widely known and respected evangelical leaders like Richard Foster, Karen and David Mains, Pete Hammond, and James Packer.
Prominent Catholics also signed, including Bryan Hehir.
To carp about the absence of specific theological issues in a short political manifesto of this sort is a silly cheap shot. To suggest that a document that stresses God's concern for the poor, the family, the environment, racism, and the dignity and equality of women has “little or nothing to do with biblical faith” is astounding. Fr. Neuhaus needs to reread the document or the Bible—or both.
The document contains the signature of J. I. Packer and a number of other prominent evangelical leaders precisely because they agree with the central concern of the “Cry for Renewal”—namely, its call for a new Christian political engagement that truly seeks to get beyond captivity to both left-wing and right-wing ideology. (A number of them also played a key role in drafting the document.)
Is it too much to ask Fr. Neuhaus to be fair in his critique?
Ronald J. Sider
President Evangelicals for Social Action
It is not too much at all. With excruciating fairness (for one knows how sensitive some folk are to criticism), I mentioned the mainline/oldline Protestant leaders because they were the ones highlighted in Frank Rich's column in the New York Times, on which I was commenting. And because they are better known to most of the readers of this journal. And because they have a long track record of trying to recruit religion to partisan political purposes, a ploy that “Cry for Renewal” both deplores and perpetrates. The problem is not that “a short political manifesto” is devoid of “specific theological issues.” The problem is that it claims to be speaking in the name of “biblical faith” but says nothing that is not said, although more temperately, by the Nation or the editorial page of the Times. While people of biblical faith may agree with the politics agitated by those publications and by “Cry for Renewal,” that political posture has “little or nothing to do with biblical faith.” It is the product of an utterly conventional left-wing ideology embraced also by non-Christians and anti-Christians who agree with “Cry of Renewal” in its stridently partisan attack on Christians of a politically conservative persuasion. Those who doubt that this is an accurate characterization of “Cry for Renewal” might write Ronald Sider (10 East Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096) and I expect he would send them a copy.
A partial error appeared in the author's identification for the article by Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., “The Abortion Cocktail,” in the January issue. It should have said that Dr. Nathanson is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Bioethics at the Center for Clinical and Research Ethics at Vanderbilt University.