Frog Politics

If you put a frog in a pan of boiling water, it will leap to safety. But if you place the same frog in cool water and slowly raise the temperature, the frog won't notice—and he'll slowly boil to death. In the same way, our political pond is slowly reaching the boiling point. Our country's slide toward tyranny has proceeded through many small steps that have escaped the attention of most Americans. One of them took place just a short time ago. The case began in 1995, when Ohio outlawed partial-birth abortion. Abortion advocates challenged the law in federal court. Last year, in Women’s Medical v. Voinovich, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Ohio law. The court strongly suggested that any restriction on abortion must include an exception for the health of the mother—an exception that, given how the courts define health, would effectively nullify the law. Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, and a few weeks ago, the Court declined to hear the appeal: They let the court's decision stand. But one justice, at least, refused to let democracy boil to death without a fight. In an unusual move, Justice Clarence Thomas issued a written dissent from the Court’s refusal. Thomas noted that the Sixth Circuit’s quarrel with the Ohio legislature "appears to be grounded in abortion policy, not constitutional law." Precisely right. By refusing to hear the case, the Court can obstruct the efforts of the 38 states that wish to restrict partial-birth abortion. And they can do it without being forced to admit that in their view, the right to an abortion includes the right to a procedure that 80 percent of Americans consider tantamount to infanticide. Christians are praying that Congress will override President Clinton's veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act at the federal level, but this case sets a precedent that could nullify that law as well. By allowing the Sixth Circuit’s judgment to stand, the Court has sent an unmistakable and chilling message: The states or Congress can pass all the bills they want—but the judiciary alone will determine what rights Americans really have. Last year, four legal scholars and I wrote about this judicial power grab in a symposium called "The End of Democracy?" which appeared in First Things magazine. We warned that federal judges have rendered the political process moot by usurping the prerogatives that the Founders intended for the people and their representatives. Since the symposium was published, the Court has turned up the pond temperature even higher. Last summer the Court overturned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed unanimously by Congress. In doing so the Court sent Congress a blunt message: It said, in effect, "Don’t even think about granting rights to the American people. That's our job!" The Court has thrown down the gauntlet and if anyone is stepping forward to pick it up, I haven’t seen him. If our representatives are going to stand up to the Court, they'd better get going and do it soon—and we need to be urging them on. If Christians do nothing to halt the slide toward tyranny, we will have no one to blame but ourselves if find that we can no longer make our own laws—that we must bow to the will of what one observer has called "our robed masters." Because if we do nothing, our democratic process will slowly, but surely, boil away.


Chuck Colson


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