Author archives: Alexandra McPhee

Hacksaw Ridge and the Value of Conscientious Objectors

by Alexandra McPhee

October 12, 2018

Seventy-three years ago today, on October 12, 1945, President Harry S. Truman awarded Private First Class (then-Corporal) Desmond T. Doss the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts during his service in the Pacific theater of World War II. He was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.

Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist. When he entered the military as a conscientious objector, he did so with the convictions that his faith required that he take a sabbath and that, under the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” he must never touch a weapon to kill another man, even in war.

The deeply-rooted, American value of religious liberty protected Doss’s beliefs. Rights of conscience have been considered a component of religious freedom since the origins of this nation. Indeed, from the time of the Colonies, the government has exempted conscientious objectors from service or from the bearing of arms.

When Doss entered the service during World War II, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 protected those “subject to combatant training and service . . . who, by reason of religious training and belief, [were] conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.”

The Act thus enabled Doss to participate in the war to the extent he believed his faith permitted. As his biography states, “He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country. But it had to be in that order.”

While serving as a medic, Doss continually carried the wounded to safety during battle in the Philippines, Guam, and Japan, all without using any weapons. In Okinawa, Japan, Doss saved the lives of 75 men over the course of a single day. American soldiers had faced an unexpected counterattack by the Japanese and were ordered to retreat. Only one-third of the soldiers were able to escape from the counterattack. Despite the order to retreat, Doss remained, and he took each of the 75 men, one by one, off of the battlefield to safety.

Doss’s feats in Okinawa were detailed in his Medal of Honor Citation and were the subject of the award-winning 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge, which Doss’s son said represents his father faithfully.

Thomas W. Bennett and Joseph G. LaPointe Jr. were also conscientious objectors, and they posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their acts of valor in the Vietnam War.

These men are proof that we do not accomplish freedom by boxing conscientious objectors or religious expression out of military service or the public square.

As Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone once said, “liberty of conscience” is “vital . .  to the integrity of man’s moral and spiritual nature,” and “nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation.” Even then, “it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.”

By defending the rights of conscience, we enable individuals like Doss, Bennett, and LaPointe to contribute, in accordance with their beliefs, towards the common good and the preservation of our country.

Reversing Roe—Or Ignoring Her?

by Alexandra McPhee

October 5, 2018

This past weekend, I microwaved some popcorn, took to Netflix, and streamed Reversing Roe, a documentary on “the state of abortion and women’s rights in America.”

The film aims to track the historical movement of the abortion debate into the political sphere, and it does so with a pro-abortion slant. It at least tries to give voice to leaders in the pro-life movement, however, with speakers that include our own Tony Perkins.

Among the documentary’s slew of pro-abortion advocates is Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade. Remarkably, it makes no mention of the story of perhaps her most well-known client, Norma McCorvey (pictured). McCorvey is the eponymous “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade. What you don’t learn is that McCorvey eventually gave birth to the child she sought to abort and later became a pro-life advocate because of her Christian faith. 

It’s a disappointing omission in a documentary that otherwise makes an effort to fairly represent the pro-life stance. (Even if it fails to fully represent the idea that pro-lifers are advocating for the unborn—not government control over women’s bodies or back-alley abortions. Or the idea that demographics other than old, white men can be pro-life.)

Arguably, the film doesn’t have the time to explore the integrity of or the moral basis for the views of all the major players in the abortion debate. But it does find screen time for a Protestant minister who supports legal abortion, a doctor who believes that his abortion practice is an act of compassion, and shrewd politicos who used Roe v. Wade to channel the passion of conservative evangelicals into votes for Ronald Reagan. 

What about the young woman who wanted an abortion and then changed her mind?

As a result, the absence of McCorvey and her story paints an incomplete picture of key figures in the abortion debate, the role of faith, and advocates for the sanctity of life. In a documentary with her assumed name in the title, Norma McCorvey and her story could have and should have been given a voice.

U.S. Courts of Appeals: No Vacancy

by Alexandra McPhee

September 24, 2018

You’ve probably seen a lot of press lately surrounding the United States Supreme Court, our nation’s court of last resort. This past weekend at the Values Voter Summit, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted another issue that he considers a top priority: the confirmation and appointment of circuit court judges, the judges that sit on the United States Courts of Appeals.

President Trump and the Republican-led Senate have coordinated a system of confirmation and appointment of high-caliber judicial conservatives to our circuit courts with unparalleled efficiency. Since President Trump has been in office, 26 new judges have ascended the bench of circuit courts across the nation. Under the Obama administration, the Senate did not confirm a 24th judge until the fourth year of Obama’s presidency.

The Supreme Court issues many consequential decisions that have had an impact on pro-life policies, traditional marriage, and the free expression of religion. But the Majority Leader explained before the VVS audience that “a very, very small number of cases make it to the Supreme Court. The circuit courts are where most complex litigation ends.” As one article notes, judicial decisions from the circuit court “span a wide range of issues, from hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights and the death penalty to voting rights, regulatory and business disputes, employment law and the environment.”

It is important that circuit court judges apply the law rather than seek to make the law based on their personal preferences. “These are lifetime appointments,” Senator McConnell emphasized. They will have a “longtime impact on what kind of country we’re going to have for the next generation.” In other words, five, ten, or twenty years from now, presently undecided areas of the law affecting our faith, family, and freedom will be decided by the circuit court judges appointed and confirmed today.

As Senator McConnell explained, “Republicans have only had the Senate, the House, and the White House for 20 of [the past] 100 years.” If we lose the Senate Republican majority, the influx of judges who will defend our constitutional rights will screech to a halt.

The Values Voter Summit is a yearly gathering of the most civically engaged and pro-family voters in our nation. All of us who have just gathered are participants, not spectators. The time is now to mobilize our friends and family to vote to keep a unified executive and legislative branch and fill our circuit courts with people “who believe that the job of a judge is to follow the law.”

Alexandra McPhee is the Director of Religious Freedom Advocacy at FRC.

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