There was a time when the law of this land said that one must return a man who had escaped into a free state to the man in a slave state that claimed to own him. That was the law then, and many people obeyed that law because, well, it was the law.
There was a time when the law of this land said orphanages and parents could send little children to labor in coal mines and factories and aboard ships. That was the law then, and many people obeyed that law because, well, it was the law.
There was a time when the law of this land said that little black Americans had to go to one school and little white Americans had to go to another. That was the law then, and many people obeyed that law because, well, it was the law.
I could cite example after example of times in our history when the law, as it stood, was simply wrong. The reason these laws no longer stand is because ordinary good people stood. They stood against the law. Fugitive slaves were sheltered by ordinary folks who found human subjugation disgusting. It wasn't famous self-proclaimed leaders or elected politicians who sat at the neighborhood lunch counter or at the front of the bus in defiance of unjust laws. It was ordinary Americans exercising the tradition of American dissent that goes all the way back to those who unloaded a cargo of tea into Boston Harbor.
Ordinary people spoke out, too. They debated and petitioned and appealed. They challenged other ordinary Americans to look beyond the law and into their consciences to see what is right and what is wrong.
As these ordinary people stood, and as they spoke out, the politicians and judges had to take notice and they had to consider whether or not these ordinary people had a point. It took time, and at times as the judges ruled against them, and as hearts seemed unchanged, they must have been discouraged, yet they continued to stand and continued to speak. As a result generations of Americans are more free and treated more justly.
Right now the law says a disabled woman can be ordered by a court to be starved and dehydrated until she dies. The law says that even if she is able to take oral sustenance, it is illegal to give it to her. The law says a mother, a father, a sister, and a brother, as they sit beside their dying loved one, cannot offer her relief. This is the law now, and many people say we should obey the law because, well, it's the law.
But the law in this case is wrong.
As I write this, ordinary Americans are standing and speaking for Terri Schiavo. I do not know if it will do Terri any good. I pray that God will preserve her and send her relief. But whether or not Terri survives this assault on her life, we must continue to stand and continue to speak out, because Terri is but one of many defenseless people who face unjust treatment, even unjust death, because of laws that not only fail to protect them, but also act against them.
We go to great effort and great expense to add ramps and accessible rest rooms and other accessibility aids out of respect for the disabled who have challenges in mobility, hearing, and sight, but Terri Schiavo suffers from a category of disability we still refuse to accommodate. She is challenged in her intelligence and her communication. To those who define humanity by potential for productivity--by what a person can do--poor Terri fails the test. So for years she has been banished to her room. Now she must be banished from the earth, while the judges of our land drop their gavels in approval.
The law is wrong. What will you do?
Thanks to reader Baille for sharing the image of the document that accompanies this post. You can read Baillie's blog here. You can click on the image for a larger, more readable view.