Editor’s note: This Friday, April 8, noted scholar and professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, Dr. Robert P. George, will be speaking at a conference on American exceptionalism hosted by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, titled, “America: Still the Last Best Hope?” In anticipation of Dr. George’s visit, we’re distributing the following “V&V Flashback” offering from September of 2005.
Sitting in a black Yukon with a machine gun in his lap, Condoleezza Rice’s bodyguard was not the most striking figure outside of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Neither was the thin, black-clad Secretary of State as she departed the church and crossed the street to her waiting vehicle with a confident yet thoughtful stride.
Wednesday, September 7, was a beautiful day in the U.S. capital city. Two colleagues and I had just finished a meeting with the longtime successful leader of the impressive American Enterprise Institute, Christopher DeMuth. As we walked north on 17th Street we noticed several black SUVs, barricades, police tape and Secret Service agents. Crude protestors stood at the corner displaying tasteless signs. Helicopters circled overhead.
It was an historic moment. Chief Justice Rehnquist’s funeral was taking place at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue near the intersection with 17th Street.
We eventually were able to get within a few dozen yards of the church and took up a post outside of a café across the street. As my friends and I were talking, I noticed Princeton University’s brilliant legal philosopher Robert “Robby” George sitting in the café talking on his cell phone. Since Robby had spoken at our place of employment–Grove City College–a few years ago, we felt like we knew him and went into the café to talk as we all watched out the window for the doors of the church to open.
Robby told us that he was in town doing work for The President’s Council on Bioethics. It wasn’t long until George was leading our little group in a discussion about the moral argument for the human embryo. Professor George used logic and remarkable scientific discoveries to demonstrate the powerful moral argument for preserving the life of an embryo.
The science has advanced so far, George said, that the pro-choice crowd cannot make a sound moral and logically consistent argument for destroying life based on the idea that an embryo lacks humanity. Within hours of conception, he explained, scientists now know that the human body plan is already forming. The biological format for a well-constructed person is already in the works far before a morning after pill could do its job.
Just as the enlightening conversation was concluding, the doors of the church opened and people began to flow down the wide stone stairs of St. Matthew’s. We exchanged business cards and solemnly left the café to get closer to the 110 year-old, red-brick Romanesque cathedral.
Among the mourners I could see Justices Scalia, Thomas and O’Connor. News cameras were lined up capturing the scene. Moments later my colleagues and I realized we were within a few feet of the Secretary of State’s vehicle and her bodyguard.
Professor George was the closest of the four of us to the Secretary’s vehicle. I watched him watch Justice Rehnquist’s casket being carried from the church. As the flag-draped coffin descended the stairs on the shoulders of the Chief Justice’s former clerks, and Robby George looked on, a great scene was unfolding. I wondered if the Secretary of State was thinking what I was thinking as Professor George stood just outside her window.
This was a moment about life, liberty, law, truth and the duty to defend the rights of all Americans no matter their age. A great American, who devoted his life to truth and justice, had just passed by us in a state of eternal rest. Another great American stood on the curb silently honoring him.
The struggle for the highest court in the land resumes now. The contest for truth continues.
One of the quiet leaders in America’s 230-year struggle to secure the unalienable rights of man is Robby George. One man advancing truth can overcome thousands with worldly power. May truth prevail, again.