(Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter, Winter 1999-2000)
William Bentley Ball, one of the nation’s foremost Catholic constitutional lawyers and a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors, died on January 10, 2000, while on vacation in Florida. Mr. Ball was 82.
Mr. Ball served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1948. After working in the legal departments of W.R. Grace & Co. and Pfizer, Inc., he taught constitutional law at the Villanova University School of Law from 1955 to 1960. He then served as General Counsel to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference for the next eight years, after which he formed the Harrisburg, Penn., law firm of Ball, Skelly, Murren & Counsel, where he continued to represent the Conference until his death.
One of Mr. Ball’s first and most notable cases was the Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, in which the state of Wisconsin tried to force Amish children to attend school until they turned 16. He won that case, and later went on to serve as counsel in 24 other constitutional cases before the Supreme Court. He was chief litigation counsel in constitutional litigation before the supreme courts of 12 states, and the lower courts of 17 states and many federal courts. He appeared before Congressional committees numerous times on a wide variety of issues relating to religious freedom and constitutional law.
His articles appeared regularly in Crisis, First Things, Saturday Review, Teachers College Record, and law reviews, and he was the author of several books, including Whose Values — The Battle For Morality in Pluralistic America (Servant 1985), and Mere Creatures of The State: Education, Religion, and The Courts (Crisis Books, 1994).
Mr. Ball assisted a number of pro-life and religious liberty groups, including the American Family Institute, the Human Life and National Family Planning Foundation, and the National Federation for Decency. He also sought to forge alliances with Catholics and Evangelical Christians and was one of the signers of the much-discussed statement, Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. He edited the book, In Search of A National Morality (Baker Books/Ignatius Press 1992), which sought to explore common ground between those of orthodox Christian beliefs.
Mr. Ball became fast friends with Thomas Aquinas College when he came to give a lecture on Constitutional law in 1992. Over the next several years, he provided valuable assistance to the College in a controversy involving the accreditation initiatives of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to impose cultural diversity standards on college curricula. His love for the College endured, and in 1996 he accepted an invitation to serve on the College’s Board of Governors, a magnanimous commitment in view of the many worthy organizations and institutions clamoring for his attention.
“A model of Christian charity, William Bentley Ball was the legal giant of our times for Christians everywhere,” said President Thomas E. Dillon, who attended his funeral in Harrisburg, Penn. “The College is profoundly grateful to this champion of religious freedom not only for the achievements he won for so many, but for his commitment to authentic Catholic liberal education and to Thomas Aquinas College in particular.” Mr. Ball’s family directed that memorial contributions be sent to the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation or to Thomas Aquinas College.
May he rest in peace.
“No one here tells us what to think. We read the great books, look into them deeply, and then discuss them actively in class, which has forced me to take responsibility for my own education.”
– Patrick Nazeck (’19)
“I am grateful to Thomas Aquinas College for educating new leaders for our Church, leaders who are grounded in their personal relationship and commitment to Jesus Christ.”
– Most. Rev. George Niederauer
Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco