We Are the Civil Rights Movement Now

Consider the last full week in January as a week-long statement on civil rights in America.

It starts Sunday, Jan. 20 with  Inauguration Day — a day to be grateful for the civil rights progress represented by the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.

Monday, Jan. 21 is Martin Luther King Day, a day to celebrate the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. for  racial equality.

The week ends with the March for Life on Friday, Jan. 25, a reminder that the dream King marched for is far from fulfilled.

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note,” King said. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

He added: “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note.”

In his day it was obvious that America defaulted on the promise of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In our day, it is obvious that we have defaulted on the right to life.

Many people hated Martin Luther King Jr. in his day. They hated him not because he was wrong, but because he was right. Nothing makes us more angry than those who take the side of the voice in our conscience that we are trying to silence.

The movie Lincoln reminds us that people hated the abolitionists in their day, too. To get the 13th amendment passed, outlawing slavery, Thaddeus Stevens has to hide his belief in racial equality. People feared racial equality because it would change their lives too much, and they hated abolitionists for insisting that truth is more important than lifestyle.

This year, the media will cover the Second Inauguration in a major way: They will tie it to Martin Luther King Day, celebrate the progress in civil rights, but then they will ignore the March for Life.

That does a disservice to the great man who said in his Letter From Birmingham Jail that he saw his task as “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.”

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was enthralled by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. My mother, a Mexican who suffered from America’s racial tensions, made sure we knew what was at stake in questions of prejudice and human rights. I still remember seeing tears stream down her face when my own daughter memorized much of King’s “I have a dream” speech and recited it for her.

But from the first, she taught us to be pro-life as well. In that we were not alone: The civil rights movement rightly saw abortion as the next grave threat to human rights in America. Figures like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Al Gore were all pro-life — at first — in the 1970s.

But then the temptations of money and lifestyle once again overcame the truth. The money came from the abortion industry, the very caricature of callous big business. The lifestyle threatened here wasn’t the plantation system or segregation, but the sexual revolution. Abortion is the ultimate safeguard of the sexual revolution. Even with readily available contraception, sexual promiscuity on the scale we see today would be impossible without abortion.

Prescient civil rights voices saw this coming.

My mother made sure we watched the classic movies of the civil rights movement. One of my favorites was Raisin in the Sun, the Sydney Poitier movie based on the play.

It was about a black family moving into a white neighborhood. It was also, ironically, about how money and abortion tempt people to abandon the principles of civil rights.

After foolishly investing his mother’s nest egg, young husband Walter Youngers is given a chance to make a handsome profit — if he accepts a neighbor’s offer and sells out of the white neighborhood.

Mama is the voice of the conscience of black America. Here is how the play’s text presents it:

Mama. (advancing resolutely) Son — I come from five generations of people who was slaves and share croppers — but aint nobody in my family never took no money from nobody that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. (raising her eyes and looking at him) We aint never been that — (voice breaks and she turns away, unable to continue) — dead inside.”

What are abortion funds but money that proclaims a class of people — the unborn — unfit to walk the earth? And  millions of pro-abortion dollars flowed to Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections according to opensecrets.org.

But Mama’s pro-life argument was more explicit when her son’s young wife announces that she plans to abort their new child. Youngers says nothing, but Mamma speaks up.

Mama. I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was. (Pause. The silence shouts.) Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them — (she rises) I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one. …. I’m WAITING.”

Today, those of us who believe in the promissory note of the Declaration of Independence are still waiting. We are waiting for the self-proclaimed champions of civil rights to admit that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life.”

Those words don’t exclude anybody — not Native American Indians, not Mexicans, not African-Americans … and not the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,  we see only through ultrasound windows.

The pro-lifers who flood Washington on Friday will see the inauguration in the right perspective — one step forward and two steps back in a civil rights battle that is far, far from over.

And we are humbled and a little frightened to see that we who refuse to ignore the right to life are the real civil rights movement now.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.



  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Greenpoint/100002755784850 Bob Greenpoint

    And yet your organization fights tooth and nail to prevent the extension of civil rights to the gay and lesbian community. Beyond belief.

  • abadilla

    “I think part of the problem is that pro-abortion advocates distance themselves from the actual brutality of the act”

    Absolutely true. I once was part of a T.V. program at the Trinity Broadcasting System, a Protestant station, where I had to debate a lady who owned an abortion clinic. The argument between us went back and forth until, during the break, I proposed actually showing slides of abortions where one can see the brutality and inhumanity of the act itself. The lady immediately said, “If he shows those slides I will leave.” Well, I know why she wanted to leave. She didn’t want the viewing public to actually see what the word “abortion” really means.
    I teach a course on The Holocaust. Well, I lecture and lecture about the Holocaust on and on until I show black and white pictures of the Holocaust, and it is only then that my students get the picture of the ugly reality of the Holocaust. The same with abortion.

  • abadilla

    “Figures like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Al Gore were all pro-life — at first — in the 1970s.”
    Amazing! I did not know this at all! I presume those folks had always been pro-abortion even if one of them claimed he was a Catholic!

    O.K. Marvin, I can’t let this one go without a challenge, “a pregnant woman has civil rights. A fetus doesn’t.” Wow! Who taught you this? Are you telling me and others here that the nine months you were in your mother’s womb you had no civil rights? Are you telling me and others in this forum that because you were a helpless child in the womb you had no right to be protected during all that time you were developing in the womb so you could be born at the end of nine months? How is it that a stage of life, a fetus, is less sacred than another stage of life, life infancy outside of the mothers womb? How do you, arbitrarily decide at which stage of development a human being has no civil rights? I honestly don’t get it!
    I’m sure you know who Justin Bieber is. Well, the young man was going to be aborted by his mom and he wasn’t. Now, I don’t care about his music nor all his fans, but I’m glad he is alive because someone decided that “fetus” had civil rights.

    • Marvin Derks

      abadilla, you’re right. You honestly don’t get it.

      • abadilla

        Marvin, that’s not an answer, so, I repeat my question, “How do you, arbitrarily decide at which stage of development a human being has no civil rights?”

        • Marvin Derks

          By following my conscience. There’s nothing arbitrary about it. My conscience was within me at birth to use as a guide to help me determine what actions are moral and what actions are not. We all have a conscience to guide us. You’ve decided to follow the dictates of your religion. I follow my conscience knowing that my conscience was given to me by whatever power created our wonderful universe through the process of evolution. You might call that power God. I prefer not to use religious labels.

          • abadilla

            Thank you for a real reply. I am surprise you appealed to conscience to believe in a biological fact, the fetus is a stage of development in the womb of the mother and it has all the DNA that any human being has, therefore it is a human being. Normally, one would use one’s concience to guide a person on what is wrong and what is right.
            From a Catholic perspective, a concience in order to guide a person morally, needs to be informed. An informed conscience will be able to guide us in this confusing and often contradicting world of ours. Take a thermometer that has been in a drawer for years. Suddenly we need it to find out if a temperature is accurate or not. The thermometer is not working properly. Would it be able to give us an accurate reading of a patient’s temperature? Of course not. The same with the conscience. If it isn’t well-formed, then it is useless in guiding a person through what is wrong or right.
            Now, I’m not writing all of these things for you to be convinced of anything. I’m merely letting you know what the Catholic position is on conscience, since that was basically your reply to me, and because, after all, this is a Catholic forum.

          • Marvin Derks

            What you seem not to recognize is that our conscience is formed through our experiences. When I was a kid, I had a BB gun. I killed lots of birds and frogs. For 3 days I tried to kill the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. On day 3, I suddenly realized that I was trying to kill something alive and very beautiful and I felt sick to my stomach. My gut hurt and over-whelming guilt came over me because of all the birds I had killed. That was my conscience talking to me through my inner feelings. I knew then that I would never kill another living creature. That change in me didn’t come from religion, it didn’t come from rules in the Bible and it didn’t come from my parents. I could give you many more examples of how my conscience guided me. You believe your conscience was formed through your religion. I don’t agree. Conscience is formed through our experiences. It is there to guide us and get us in touch with the over-all justice and humanity in the universe of which we are a part. You depend on your religion. I depend on that justice and morality that surrounds me and is within me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/connor.mcginnis.184 Connor McGinnis

            If we both use our consciences and come to different conclusions, what then? Might makes right? Why is you belief that women have the right to kill their fetus more valid than my belief that the fetus has the basic right to life, which trumps most if not everything else?Your conscience may be formed from non-arbitrary experience, but using it to determine if something gets rights will be at odds with other peoples’ consciences and therefore, arbitrary and subjective to the individual.

          • Marvin Derks

            Pro-choice advocates love children. Pro-choice advocates love families.
            Pro-choice advocates would love to see a world where abortions don’t
            happen. They simply don’t believe that taking the rights away from women
            is the way to accomplish that end. I’m pro-choice and I love to see a
            pregnant woman who is all aglow and joyful about her upcoming
            motherhood. The process of a fetus developing within in a woman boggles
            my mind. It’s a wondrous event. I, however, am mindful of the balance in
            the universe that includes the right of every individual to control
            their own body. You say the fetus is a separate individual. I don’t
            agree. It’s really that simple. We disagree. We need to discuss these
            differences of opinion without calling each other names and without
            objectifying each other with hateful labels. We need to be civil. We
            really need to love each other and try the other person on as best we
            can to determine why they don’t have the same opinions we do. I’m not
            pro-choice because I think pro-life advocates are stupid or ignorant.
            I’m pro-choice because I’m pro-choice.

          • http://www.facebook.com/connor.mcginnis.184 Connor McGinnis

            The things is, I don’t think it is up to our opinions to decide whether or not a fetus is a separate individual. A fetus has its own unique DNA. It is connected through the umbilical cord to the mother, yet that doesn’t make it part of the mother anymore than someone who is attached via tube to a machine a part of the machine themselves. I’m all for civil discourse, and if most post came across as unkind, I apologize. I’m just trying to understand if there is a reason that pro-choicers should have their beliefs legalized, but not pro-lifers unless it really is only arbitrarily up to those in power.

          • abadilla

            “What you seem not to recognize is that our conscience is formed through our experiences.”

            I looked through my entire statement again, and I never said that “only” my religion forms my conscience, or the concience of all Catholics for that matter. “To this purpose [the formation of conscience] man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence. by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #1788 Isn’t that what you mean when you stated “our conscience is formed through our experiences?”

            BTW, your story is absolutely beautiful and I sincerely mean just that.

            When you say “You depend on your religion. I depend on that justice and morality that surrounds me and is within me.”

            I depend on both.

            However, I’m a bit puzzled. Why isn’t your concience telling you that killing a human being in the womb of his mother is wrong, yet it clearly told you that killing a beautiful bird was wrong?

  • Marvin Derks

    I know that you won’t agree with this but in my opinion, a pregnant woman has civil rights. A fetus doesn’t. A fetus achieves civil rights when and if it’s born, not when it’s conceived and the choice of bringing or not bringing a child into the world is the civil right of women.

    • Tom Hoopes

      So … are you for partial-birth abortion? What if the fetus survives the abortion? Once she isoutside the womb does she have rights? What about the fetus that grabbed the surgeon’s hand while the surgeon was operating on him in the womb? If his arm came out did he get rights at that point?

      I think science, not our feelings, should rule. We know when a new person has individual and separate dna … we know when human life begins. Rights start there.

      • Marvin Derks

        I believe my original opinion answers your questions. Simply stated once again, it’s my opinion that women have the right to determine if they will choose to give birth. None of your examples change my opinion.

        • Tom Hoopes

          Thus it always is … the powerful get to decide that they have rights the weak don’t have. Some of us, thank God, reject that inhuman logic.

          • Philip D.

            Kind of like how you think the majority should get to vote on whether gay people should be excluded from the same rights as anyone else. It’s interesting how you only want to protect other people’s rights when it suits your purposes and then turn around and join the angry mob against other vulnerable citizens.

          • Tom Hoopes

            I don’t want to exclude gay people from any rights … and I’ve never been part of an angry mob against anything except abortion, and the mob was more sad than angry.

          • abadilla

            Nice try Philip, but you are twisting his words and the subject is abortion, the murder of the innocent, not homosexual rights.

          • http://www.facebook.com/connor.mcginnis.184 Connor McGinnis

            Interesting how you accuse Catholic Vote of always bringing up gay marriage, yet you throw in a total (I cannot even call it a red-herring) curve ball, let’s say. It has nothing to do with the morality of abortion.

        • abadilla

          Marvin, a scientific fact IS a scientific fact, not an opinion. I understand our bodies are composed of 70% of water. Is that an “opinion” or is that a scientific fact?

          You stated, “None of your examples change my opinion.” Sometimes we are compelled by reason and evidence to change our “opinions” because our opinions might be dead wrong. People who, at one time, believed the earth was flat, had to, in the face of new evidence, changed their opinions.
          You seem to be saying, “Tom, don’t confuse me with the facts, in this case, scientific facts.”00

        • mcrognale

          Except of course that you are what I call a pseudo-male. You have the right equipment but lack the testicular fortitude to accept that the child you might help create is just as much yours as it is hers. You see, if she kills the kid, then you are off the hook for child support, monetary, emotional and example. I sincerely hope that you haven’t bred yet. We don’t need any more pretend men in this country. We have too many running the damned government.

          • Marvin Derks

            I chose not to have children. As a child, I experienced a near death due to the prank of 2 other kids. I was also raped once by an adult whom I considered to be my best friend, I was bullied on several occasions by the neighborhood bully who would then take whatever money I had and when I was older (10 years old) I was chased up the street by a man who jumped out of a truck that was parked on the side of the road as I was coming home from playing basketball with my friends. I out ran him. As a result of those experiences I believed the world was a very dangerous and very scary place. I decided not to bring children into this kind of world. Instead, I married a woman who already had a 2 year old child with cerebral palsy. I raised and loved that child as my own. She went on to hold a world record in the Handicapped Olympics in the 100 yard dash. She could fly on crutches. So you got your wish. I never had children.

          • abadilla

            Marvin, all I can say is how sorry I feel all these things happened to you.

          • Marvin Derks

            Thank-you abadilla. No need to feel sorry for me however. Those experiences brought out a sensitivity in me that I cherish.

          • abadilla

            Marvin, I just saw a movie with my wife and younger daughter. It’s about what a family went through in a Tsunami. When I left the theater, I told my wife “A tragedy like that has to make any family stronger, ” and that’s what probably happened to you, you became stronger with your misfortunes.

            Don’t be afraid to have children in the future. They will be your consolation when you’re old and in need of them, The world is indeed a scary place, but it offers many opportunities to grow and love life.

          • abadilla

            “You have the right equipment but lack the testicular fortitude to accept that the child you might help create is just as much yours as it is hers.” If you want to reach Marvin, this is precisely the way NOT to do it. If you want him to think we all Catholics are just hateful people, this is the way to do it. We don’t really know who is behind a computer typing, and so we have to be careful in what we write. And this is coming from someone who has problems using filters and practicing the virtue of prudence.

        • http://www.facebook.com/connor.mcginnis.184 Connor McGinnis

          I have no objection to you holding an opinion. I’m just wondering if you can provide a reason that your opinion should be implemented over ours. Otherwise, all I can see is that those in power choose.



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