Faith in Action Blog
Lauretta Brown (’13) interviews Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2014.
With the new year close at hand, Lauretta Brown (’13) finds herself commemorating two significant anniversaries. It was a little over a year ago that she became a fulltime reporter at the Cybercast News Service (CNS) — and shortly thereafter that she unsettled House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with a frank question about abortion.
Just weeks into her job at CNS, Miss Brown went to Mrs. Pelosi’s weekly press briefing to query the California Congresswoman about her opposition to the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Eschewing the distracting political angles, Miss Brown cut to the chase, asking, “Is an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy a human being?”
When the Minority Leader responded with the usual pro-abortion boilerplate, Miss Brown’s CNS colleague pressed further. “My question is pretty simple,” she began. “Legislation aside, when it comes to the matter of whether or not an unborn child is a human being at 20 weeks’ gestation, what is your personal take on it? If it is not a human being, then what do you believe it is?”
A simple question, to be sure, but one to which Mrs. Pelosi refused to provide a straightforward answer. “She was dumbfounded, offended. She would not answer,” Miss Brown recalls. “She said she had been around a lot longer than I had. She said she was a Catholic mother, and she knew more about having babies than the Pope. She raised up all kinds of tangential issues, but never answered directly.”
Asking the tough and important — but too often overlooked — questions, Miss Brown says, is among her greatest joys as a political reporter. “I try to find stories that maybe are not being reported on as much,” particularly those that touch upon matters of the right to life, religious freedom, and the plight of Christians in the Middle East. “That’s our mission, to find stories that aren’t being reported as widely, and bring those to life.”
Yet when she graduated from the College in 2013, Miss Brown did not envision a career in journalism. She intended to become a lawyer, and was considering offers from law schools when a friend told her about an internship at CNS — a short-term commitment, or so she thought when she agreed to take the position. She soon, however, developed a love for journalism and set aside all thoughts of law school. In short order, her internship turned into a trial position that, last December, became a fulltime job.
Since then, Miss Brown has worked to report the untold stories from Capitol Hill. She has interviewed numerous notable figures political, cultural, and religious, including presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, entertainers Geena Davis and Leona Lewis, and Church prelates such as His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and His Excellency William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore.
When cutting through politician’s all-too-common dissimulations, she says, she finds herself drawing upon her Thomas Aquinas College education. “Smart reporting is always improved through critical thinking, looking at statements, and saying, ‘OK, what is factual about this?’” she observes. “I have been shocked at how much, in conversations and in my writing, I’ve been able to draw back on my experience from the College. It has been a tremendous help.”
Dr. Adam Seagrave ('05)“It would be a mistake to think that even the total defeat and eradication of the organization known as ISIS will result in long-term peace and an absence of radical Islamic terrorism in Europe and the United States,” writes Dr. Adam Seagrave (’05) in The Public Discourse. “There is a much more powerful and permanent reason behind radical Islamic terrorism: the motivation to die for an other-worldly cause inevitably overpowers the motivation to live for this world.”
An assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. Seagrave is the author of The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law and editor of Liberty and Equality: The American Conversation. A regular contributor to The Public Discourse, he laments that there is neither a military nor a quick resolution to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
“If Western culture continues to be defined by the pitiful desire to go on living in as much physical comfort as possible, we will continue to be victimized and oppressed by the much more powerful appeal of radical Islam to die for God and eternal happiness,” Dr. Seagrave observes. “We in the West need to work to understand better and persuasively articulate the moral vision underlying liberalism, connecting this moral vision to the theological principles of Christianity.”
Dr. Seagrave contends that, for the last 500 years, the West has struggled between two competing visions of liberalism. The first is the Hobbesian model, more prevalent in Europe, which reduces the purpose of life to the pursuit of survival, pleasure, and power. Then there is a Christian/Lockean counterpart, which historically has been more influential in the United States, and which places Hobbesian individualism within a spiritual and moral framework that satisfies man’s yearning for meaning and guides his actions toward the good. To the extent that the Hobbesian model continues to dominate Western thought, Dr. Seagrave argues, the West will remain vulnerable to radical Islam. Only the Christian/Lockean vision, he insists, can provide a viable alternative.
“If we in the West are ultimately to withstand the threat of radical Islam to our way of life, we would do well to draw upon the resources in our intellectual and religious traditions that are powerful enough to inspire its continuing defense,” Dr. Seagrave concludes. “Without consistent and widespread efforts to provide a coherent and compelling alternative philosophy and way of life, all the military might in the world will not be able to resist the onslaught of Islamic extremism.”
- Recent Reads by Alumni Authors (2012)
- What Pro-Lifers Can Learn from Frederick Douglass (2013)
- Two Class of 2005 Authors in The Public Discourse (2013)
- College’s Latest Alumni Author (2014)
- Alumnus Reviews Fellow Grad’s New Book (2015)
Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, at federal court in San Francisco.
When David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress first devised his plan to expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of harvesting and selling the organs of aborted babies, he knew he would need legal advice. So the undercover journalist turned to San Francisco’s Life Legal Defense Foundation and its co-founder and vice president, Katie Short (’80). Mrs. Short and others helped Mr. Daleiden to prepare for the inevitable legal challenges and to navigate the myriad laws in several jurisdictions.
Katie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressNearly three years later, that effort has proved to be a tremendous success, drawing national attention to Planned Parenthood’s gruesome practices and fueling a Congressional movement to strip the abortion provider of federal funding. Predictably, the abortion industry’s premier trade group, the National Abortion Federation, has struck back with a lawsuit designed to ruin Mr. Daleiden and suppress his findings. And so the young filmmaker has turned to Mrs. Short once again, asking her foundation to defend him against a fevered legal onslaught.
“We at Life Legal have fought for decades to guarantee the First Amendment rights of pro-life activists,” says Mrs. Short. “Usually this happens on a small scale right in front of an abortion mill. Now we are seeing the same drama play out on a grand scale in the public eye, as the NAF throws its resources into crushing David Daleiden’s witness. There’s really little else that they can do, as David truly has the goods on the abortion industry in general and on Planned Parenthood in particular. Only by doing our all at this crucial juncture can Life Legal keep the truth about Planned Parenthood available to the public.”
A home-schooling mother of nine children, Mrs. Short has written numerous briefs for state and federal courts, including petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court. She co-authored the text of Propositions 73, 85, and 4, California ballot initiatives aimed at requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. She additionally served as co-counsel in People’s Advocate v. ICOC, a suit challenging the constitutionality of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency established by Proposition 71 to fund embryonic stem cell research.
Last week Mrs. Short was at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, leading Mr. Daleiden’s pro bono defense team during his deposition — one small step in what promises to be a lengthy, exhausting, and expensive legal battle. “The case has extremely high stakes for all participants,” says Mrs. Short’s husband, Bill (’80), a fellow attorney. “Please pray for Daleiden, the project, Katie, and the rest of the legal team, and encourage others to do so as well.”
Like his fellow graduate John Finley (’99), Christopher Zehnder (’87) sees a connection between Pope Francis’s warnings in Laudato Si’ and the Supreme Court’s recent attempt to redefine marriage. Writing in his personal blog, Notes from the Wasteland, Mr. Zehnder observes:
“It is fitting, in a way, that the Supreme Court’s decision should so closely follow the pope’s encyclical, for the former brings into focus the major theme of the latter. That theme is not the threat of climate change, whatever those who want either to dismiss the encyclical or coöpt it say. A major — if not the major — theme of Laudato Si’ is that, both in the moral order and the natural order, everything is connected. How we treat the ‘environment’ is how we will treat ourselves, and how we treat ourselves is how we will treat the natural world outside ourselves. …
“Those, therefore, who insist on the integrity of the natural world but rejoice at Friday’s Supreme Court decision are self-confused. Those who deplore the decision, call for respect for the nature of marriage and the basic meaning of sexual acts but ignore the integrity of the natural world, are self-confused. Those who think you must respect unborn human life but can subject human labor to irrational market forces are as confused as those who think you may kill unborn children but not oppress the worker. Sooner or later, these groups will need to decide on their core principle — relativism or respect for nature — for mankind will not remain in a state of interior division forever.”
Mr. Zehnder is the general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, which aims to create a new generation of textbooks for parochial schools that accurately, beautifully, and engagingly reflect the Church’s contribution to human history. A high school teacher and former headmaster, he is the author of three of the project’s books: From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America; Light to the Nations II: the Making of the Modern World; and Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.
“I was in my dress and getting ready to leave,” recalls Lane (Smith ’04) Scott, describing that woeful day in 2011 when she almost got her Ph.D.
After spending three years completing her coursework and another four writing a dissertation, she had made the six-hour, 400-mile drive from her home in Angels Camp, California, to Los Angeles to defend her dissertation at Claremont Graduate University. Then the phone rang.
It was her adviser. “He said that the department chair had not actually bothered to read my dissertation until the night before, and then determined that I had an incomplete understanding of the subject,” she sighs. The defense was canceled. “Dissertation defenses never get canceled. Everyone knows that once the defense is scheduled, you’re golden. It was mortifying — unprecedented. I was in my dress and on my way to the campus, and instead of being done I had to write an entirely new dissertation.”Read more
Over the weekend the Ventura County Star published a lengthy feature about the latest assault on human life in California — physician-assisted suicide, now euphemistically dubbed “aid in dying.” The story includes quotations from both prominent supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 128, which would permit doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. Among those opposed to the measure is an alumnus and tutor of the College, Dr. John. J. Goyette (’90).
“The very idea of physician-assisted suicide is an implicit judgment that a life that involves suffering is not really worth living,” Dr. Goyette tells the Star. “It’s seeing human beings as disposable.” Framing the controversy not so much as one of religion but of human dignity, he adds, “Natural law forbids taking innocent human life,” a prohibition of which “faith reminds us.”
Dr. Goyette continues by observing that assisted suicide’s supporters have a grimly utilitarian view of the end of human life. “The underlying assumption is that a death with pain and suffering is somehow meaningless or undignified — that doesn’t really fit with our experience,” he says. “Suffering is an opportunity for people to show care and compassion. A death that’s filled with compassion, that’s not a meaningless or undignified death.”
The full story is available on the Ventura Star website.
As a demonstration “that commemorates those lives snuffed out before seeing the light of day,” the annual March for life, writes Sean Fitzpatrick (’02), “is, perhaps first and foremost, a funeral march.” The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mr. Fitzpatrick has penned a poignant and thoughtful reflection about today’s march for Crisis magazine, where he is a regular contributor. He observes:
“The March for Life is a witness to the Gospel of Life, demonstrating by the thousands that though abortion is common practice it is not common sense. The March is a positive outcry against the government’s failure to defend the defenseless and to protect women against the tortures of conscience. Abortion is not simply a failure of justice, but a failure of government itself. President Washington wrote in 1789, ‘The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.’ When that pillar is compromised, the structure fails and falls. It is not out of the question to ask, ‘Who will be the next to lose their unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?’ In a statement given one year ago on this day to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama said, ‘this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.’ But at what point, at what precise point, does everyone become someone? Whenever it is, it is no longer self-evident.
“It is not enough to demand justice. Justice, as Our Lord taught, is to be hungered and thirsted after as a means of wellbeing. Just as hunger and thirst can never be forever satisfied in this life, neither can the requirement for the divine gift of justice. This is the truth that beats out the march of Christian soldiers. Though they mourn on this day as they march on the National Mall, they do it in the happiness and blessedness that is their claim, in honor of the dead.”
The full article is available via Crisis.com.
“Don't like abortion? Don’t have one.” So read the pro-abortion bumper sticker of bygone days. There’s now an addendum: “But pay for mine.”
Thus begins an op-ed piece by Catherine Short (’80), who — as part of her 35-year effort in defense of the unborn — is taking on a new California policy that requires all insurance plans to provide abortion coverage. (Thomas Aquinas College is, mercifully, exempt from the mandate because it self-insures.)
As the legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which she helped to found, Mrs. Short recently sent a letter to the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), decrying its shoddy legal pretext for the new policy:
The DMHC decision apparently rests on two untenable positions. The first is the self-evidently false proposition that all abortions, including elective abortions, are “medically necessary” and thus must be covered pursuant to the Knox-Keene Act. In the context of abortion, “medically necessary” and “elective” are antonyms. Second, the decision asserts that the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. The California Constitution, a s currently interpreted, prohibits the state from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, by withholding funding for abortions. CDRR v. Myers , 29 Cal.3d 252 (1981). This decision does not prohibit private actors such as religious employers from deciding what services its employee health insurance policies will cover.
The letter additionally notes that the state’s policy is in plain violation of federal law. The 2004 Weldon Amendment prohibits states, such as California, that receive certain forms of federal funding from imposing abortion-coverage requirements without conscience exemptions. “California’s violation of federal law is clear,” writes Mrs. Short on aletia.com. “Equally clear is the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate to enforce that law. What remains to be seen is whether the Administration will follow through on President Obama’s personal pledge to ‘honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.’”
Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, has recently published a new book through the University of Chicago Press: The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law. The book, according to the publisher’s summary, attempts to answer the question, “Does the concept of natural rights have the natural law as its foundation or are the two ideas, as Leo Strauss argued, profoundly incompatible?”
Although Seagrave acknowledges that the notion of natural rights does not derive from traditional natural law, he argues that the two concepts are nonetheless compatible — when viewed through the lens of John Locke and St. Thomas Aquinas. After presenting a comprehensive philosophical explanation of natural morality, drawing heavily upon the authors and works studied in the College’s classical curriculum, he then turns to many contemporary issues of political import, from the preservation of marriage, to healthcare, to the death penalty.
The book has already earned several positive reviews, with one scholar hailing it as “one of the most important books on natural law and natural rights in a generation.” It is available for purchase via Amazon, and other of Dr. Seagraves’s writings can be found at The Public Discourse website. Notably, Dr. Seagrave has recently written three articles that touch upon themes contained in Foundations of Natural Morality:
- Aristotelian-Thomism in the Modern World (March 26)
- What Can a Modern Philosopher Teach Us About Natural Law? (March 27)
- Do Ideas Really Have Consequences? (May 9)