Center for Ethics and Leadership

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rabble-Rousing and Abortion

Fordham University has given its prestigious Fordham-Stein Ethics Award to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The very conservative Cardinal Newman Society, a self-appointed watchdog over Catholic colleges, is outraged. Breyer authored the majority opinion in 2000's Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law. His career extends more than 30 years during which he wrote extensively on a wide range of legal issues, taught at Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government, and assisted in the Watergate investigation. None of this is good enough for Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society and a Fordham alumnus, who asked Fordham's president, Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., to rescind the award. A spokesman for New York's Edward Cardinal Egan said that the cardinal had spoken to Fordham to ensure "that a mistake of this sort will not happen again."

Reilly has made a career of hunting down colleges that are not truly Catholic according to his lights. His litmus test is quick and sure. Unfortunately, it is as narrow as it is incomplete. A look at the society's website does not readily show any concerns other than abortion. Whether hounded by zealots like David Horowitz pursuing leftists hiding in the ivory tower or self-proclaimed defenders of the faith like Reilly, the university, including the Catholic university, is not tasked to forward the blatantly political agendas of these groups. Reilly is a Senior Fellow at the Capital Research Center, a conservative think-tank that targets non-profits. Ralph Reed eventually came clean and left the Christian Coalition to become the political operative he always wanted to be. Patrick Reilly is well advised to do the same. Fordham and the nation's other 27 Jesuit schools are models of concern for a just society. Reilly and his allies also would do better to support, even in disagreement, these great schools.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined with Breyer in Stenberg before she was recognized by Fordham in 2001. Her selection drew no protest, but then again, conservatives had just won the White House. Other Fordham-Stein recipients include two former chief justices, Rhenquist and Burger, and several other justices, including Potter Stewart and Sandra Day-O'Connor, who shared a panel with Breyer at Fordham last spring.