It Is the Person, Not Just the Principle

Full text of address given by William B. May to the Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally in front of the HHS Region Nine Headquarters in San Francisco, March 23, 2012. Over 1,000 people attended.

The Freedom to Do No Harm

by William B May


See other videos from the San Francisco Rally.

A few years ago, Father Michael Sweeney, president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley told a group of us, “If you are going to die for something, never die for a principle, only die for another person.” We have been pondering this every since as we reflect on the causes we fight for.

Now, Fr. Sweeney wasn’t saying that principles are not important – they guide society and guide government. But the reason we fight for principles is the good of the human person – each having infinite value and dignity.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect us from the tyranny of government forcing us to violate our consciences formed by our faiths. But it is important to remember, the reason we don’t want to violate our consciences is not just a matter of principle, but a matter of not wanting to do what we know will cause harm to other people. The harm could be physical, emotional, or spiritual – it does not matter.

Archbishop designate William Lori recently used the analogy for the HHS mandate of the government forcing Jewish delis to violate Jewish dietary laws because customers want a pork sandwiches. To someone not familiar with or having respect for the Halakah they may not think that is a big deal, but for an observant Jew keeping kosher is a response – a participation in a covenant with Almighty God. It is beautiful. It has a deep spiritual significance and value. To force someone to violate that covenant, is to do harm to the person.

Religions provide a moral voice in society to help us resist the temptation to make laws to merely suit ourselves. By helping us know right from wrong and what causes spiritual, physical or emotional harm to another, our faith teaches us to fight for a just society.

Not everyone agrees on what is right or wrong, and today we have too many laws that provide people with the freedom to do harm to other people. Many believe the value of the person is determined by their ability – a disabled person has no right to live if the disability is detected before they are born. People are free to create children with the intention of depriving them of their fundamental human right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by their mothers and fathers.

But we are not here today to debate what is right or wrong. The question is whether anyone should be compelled by the power of government, by the President of the United States to promote and pay for what we know will cause harm to our brothers and sisters. While medical schools have long since taken this phrase out to the Hippocratic oath, no matter what, based on what we know to be true and good, “we will do no harm.”

Turning to the HHS Mandate, some of us know, when chemicals are given to healthy women to make them unhealthy to the point that they cannot sustain and support the human life growing within them, this causes harm. People can disagree and debate whether ending a human life is harmful, but for those who know it, don’t force us to do it, don’t force us to promote it, don’t force us to pay for it. We will do no harm!

We know that mutilating healthy persons to make their reproductive systems unhealthy for no medical reason does harm. People can disagree and debate whether human mutilation causes harm, but for those who know it causes harm, don’t force us to do it, don’t force us to promote it, don’t force us to pay for it. We will do no harm!

While we Christians are commanded to love our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, President Obama commands us to do what we know will cause harm. We will do no harm!

All we are seeking, Mr. President, is the freedom to do no harm. You can fine our institutions – our hospitals and schools – you can send your marshals to shut them down, but when you do, you will find us standing in the doorway, arm and arm. Why? Because we will do no harm!



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