On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion.
While many clergy leaders and members of various faiths and denominations applauded the decision, others loudly lamented the fact that women desiring to end an unwanted pregnancy could once again be subjected to back alleys and coat hangers.
Abortion, some argue is the worst kind of sin, while others adamantly support a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body thus taking sin out of the equation. And, as is commonly known, this latest SCOTUS decision disproportionately impacts Black women who already do not have equal access to health care.
Is abortion wrong? Is it a sin? Does life begin at conception? This Christian says, “yes.” Should the government be regulating women’s bodies? Should they be determining when and if to end a pregnancy? My answer? Absolutely not.
Yes, we are to follow the laws of the land, but every man-made law does not necessarily line up with the tenets of Christianity. In fact, many things people do in the name of God or in the name of religion are nowhere to be found in the Holy Writ.
According to the Bible, there are two primary laws: 1. love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and 2. love your neighbor aa yourself. But, what about sin — especially the sin of abortion?
According to biblestudytools.com, “sin is a riddle, sin is a mystery, a reality that eludes definition and comprehension. Sin includes a failure to do what is right.”
So, using that definition, sin is failure to fully fund public schools; sin is failure to provide decent housing for all; sin is failure to make quality health care available for everyone; sin is insisting that a woman give birth to an unwanted child and then failing to fully care for that child. Sin is violence and lovelessness towards others, and ultimately rebellion against God. Sin is structural and systemic racism. Sin is going into a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, or a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdering people just because they were Black.
Clearly, “but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7).
For many, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is sin. It is not just about abortion. It is about freedom. It’s about Justice Clarence Thomas and others’ determination to dismantle and destroy many hard-fought freedoms.
Take freedom of the press, for example. Just five days after joining the majority in overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Thomas was off to his next target (again): the freedom of the press.
“The New York Times and its progeny,” he wrote, “have allowed media organizations and interest groups to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.” He went on to suggest that a case decided over 50 years ago — New York Times v. Sullivan — should be revisited.
In that case, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the newspaper, when it said that the right to publish all statements is protected under the First Amendment.
At issue was the lawsuit a Montgomery, Alabama, city commissioner, L.B. Sullivan, filed against the New York Times for mistakes in a 1960 full-page advertisement titled “Heed Their Rising Voices.”
The advertisement, protesting the treatment of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by Alabama law enforcement, was signed by noted civil rights activists.
Sullivan, who oversaw the local police, only needed to prove that there were mistakes and that they likely harmed his reputation. A jury awarded him an unthinkable sum of $500,000 in damages because the advertisement erroneously stated that Dr. King was arrested four times instead of seven.
Later, the highest court of the land unanimously reversed and dismissed the damage award. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., reflecting the opinion of the majority wrote, “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.” He went on to write that vehement criticism and even mistakes were part of the price a democratic society must pay for freedom.
Now the court has declined (again) to revisit this landmark case, but just the fact that Justice Thomas keeps bringing it up is disturbing, as is his reported interest in striking down other laws designed to protect certain freedoms. As Whoopi Goldberg eloquently said on a recent episode of “The View” about Clarence Thomas, “You better hope they don’t come for you next!”
So, whether you’re Christian, Muslim, Jew, or none of the above, the question posed by that great orator, Frederick Douglass in his 1852 speech to the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester still remains: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Here are a few excerpts from that powerful, oft-quoted speech:
“Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”
But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.”
My grandfather Carl Murphy, publisher of The AFRO from 1920-1967 surely had Frederick Douglass’ words in mind when he wrote these words in the 1930s:
One hundred and twenty years ago our fathers looked to Thee and asked “What to us is the Fourth of July?” “What do we care about the Declaration of Independence, which declares all men created equal, yet enslaves us and sells our children as cattle?”
Not yet today are we all free despite the great strides forward.
Still, segregation and racism prevail everywhere.
But now our young people are engaged in a great struggle to determine whether they can, through the stubbornness of our own non-violent mass picketing and demonstration of solidarity, move this nation forward into a new age where we all can be first-class citizens.
On this anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, let us not forget our father’s struggles. Give us an unyielding spirit. Give us strength in all the days ahead to stand first for freedom. Amen.
Amen and Amen.
Frances “Toni” Draper is the publisher of the AFRO-American Newspaper (the AFRO), with offices in Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C.