Washington.--These days have been good for those otherwise "civil libertarians" who delight in using fraudulent religion to condemn the practice of the real thing.
First there is the wacko of Waco, David Koresh, whose "god" speaks to him in strange and destructive ways.
Then there is the alleged World Trade Center bomber, Mohammed Salameh, and his associates, who are said to have been influenced by their personal religious leader, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, an Islamic cleric who harangued against "infidels" in a makeshift mosque over a New Jersey pawn shop.
Next was the Bible-quoting and allegedly gun-toting Michael Frederick Griffin, who is charged with shooting to death the Pensacola, Fla., abortionist David Gunn.
These reputed purveyors of death (not counting Dr. Gunn) were labeled in press reports as "fundamentalists," a word that now seems exclusively linked with hate, fear, violence, ignorance and intolerance.
Since abortion has become a doctrine of the religious and pagan left, rhetorical nuclear-tipped missiles have been launched against those who believe that abortion is the killing of the innocent and that they are called by a compassionate God to rescue the perishing and care for the dying.
America's most influential newspaper, the New York Times, fired the first salvos and gave permission to the rest of the industry to follow suit. Columnist Anthony Lewis wrote that Dr. Gunn's murder "tells us the essential truth about MOST anti-abortion activists. They are religious fanatics, who want to impose their version of God's word on the rest of us. For them the end justifies any means, including violence" (emphasis mine).
Mr. Lewis' comments are reminiscent of the civil-rights era when opponents of state recognition of the endowed rights of blacks used the words, actions and images of militant black leaders like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers to divert attention from the reasoned and non-violent strategies of Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Lewis and his ideological friends want to focus public attention on what is happening outside a few abortion clinics, not what happens inside all of them. As tragic and wrong as it was for Dr. Gunn to be murdered (a distinctly anti-life act), the ratio of murdered doctors to dead babies is 1 to approximately 30 million.
In a predictable lead editorial Friday, the Times blamed the killing on Presidents Reagan and Bush who "implicitly encouraged" violence "by their unwavering support for anti- abortion protests." To the Times, it doesn't matter that Messrs. Reagan and Bush might hold convictions that abortion is wrong, even murder.
Some members of Congress are calling for a law to make it a federal crime to block abortion clinics. This would set a dangerous precedent and could affect protesters who wish to exercise their right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Such a law might come back to haunt those who have in the past attempted to block traffic to protest the U.S. military, or policies related to South Africa, or those of a particular president. In most cases, such demonstrators are handled by local authorities. There is no need to make a federal case out of them.
Any attempt by Congress to use isolated incidents by a few crazies to limit legitimate dissent, even civil disobedience, should be opposed by those who care most about the dynamism of a free society. In our past, from Revolutionary times to the Vietnam War period, some "fringe" elements quickly became mainstream because of the power of freely expressed ideas.
There are tough enough laws against murder and the destruction of property which should be enforced. There ought not to be intimidation of people with deeply and religiously held views. They have as much right to express them as the increasingly intolerant liberals have the right to express theirs.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.