Virginia’s Attorney General Advises Citizens to Risk Jail to Protest Against It
RICHMOND, Va. — Citizens should defy the federal government’s contraceptive mandate, even to the point of going to jail, General Ken Cuccinelli said in a recent radio interview.
Iowa radio host Steve Deace that civil disobedience would expose the "tyranny" behind the federal law that would compel religiously affiliated organizations and private businesses to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their employee health-insurance plans.
"My local bishop said he told a group, ‘Well, you know, I told a group I’m ready to go to jail,’ and I told him, ‘Bishop, don’t take this personally — you need to go to jail,’" said Cuccinelli, one of the first state attorneys general to file a federal lawsuit against the 2010 Patient Protection and Act.
Cuccinelli’s spokesman Brian Gottstein said the attorney general was not available for comment because of the busy state legislative session.
Cuccinelli spoke about the issue in a subsequent interview with .
"I’m certainly not advocating that people go to jail, but religious liberty is why a lot of people came to this country," Cuccinelli said. "If our government is driving so many people to be contemplating this kind of civil disobedience, I think there’s a good reason to double check and ask, ‘Have we gone too far here?’"
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on his remarks. However, the attorney general’s statements are in line with a March 2012 USCCB document that warned Catholics to be prepared to engage in civil disobedience if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate was not rescinded.
"Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified," the bishops wrote in the message, which was formatted for use as a parish bulletin insert. "Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties."
The bishops also cited a passage from Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 "Letter From Birmingham Jail," in which the civil-rights leader noted St. Augustine’s proverb "An unjust law is no law at all."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in November that the Catholic Church would "not obey" the "immoral" mandate and that the Church was prepared for a long-term fight.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has also mentioned civil disobedience as a possible response for Catholics morally opposed to the mandate.
The Catholic Association’s senior fellow, Ashley McGuire, invoked King’s example in defending Cuccinelli, who has come under fire from Planned Parenthood in Virginia for his radio statements.
"As the great civil-rights leader taught this country a few short decades ago, peaceful civil disobedience, even to the point of going to jail, is a powerful way to protest unjust laws," McGuire wrote Jan. 12 on the association’s blog.
"Pro-abortion activists should expect nothing less from religious believers who cannot and will not violate their consciences, regardless of whether they wear a suit and sit at a desk or wear a cassock and stand at an altar," McGuire said.
Cuccinelli also quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement that the "best way to get rid of an unjust law is to enforce it vigorously." If, indeed, people objecting to the mandate were jailed, Cuccinelli said that would "provide an example of what tyranny means when it’s played to its logical conclusion."
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said during an interview with the Register that he commended the attorney general’s stand.
"I welcome it. I think it’s excellent," said Donohue, who noted that civil disobedience, after all legal avenues are exhausted, has a long history in the United States, dating back to Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau in the 19th century.
"It’s a last resort," Donohue said. "I commend the attorney general of Virginia for speaking plainly. Hopefully, others follow suit, so that he won’t be out there by himself."
Stephen Neill, editor of , the newspaper for the Diocese of Richmond, Va., told the Register that the attorney general was speaking for himself and that civil disobedience would be a decision left to the consciences of individuals who morally objected to the mandate’s provisions and could not violate their consciences by complying with the law.
"If somebody thought they would be willing to go to jail over it, that would be their personal response," said Neill, who noted that the diocese is involved in several pro-life activities, including the March for Life.