The Terri Schiavo case has been a perfect media storm and an object lesson.
For the media, it served as a metaphor for much of what divides us: pro-life vs. pro-choice; religious vs. secular; wife vs. husband vs. parents/in-laws; church vs. state.
Many religious leaders (and certain members of Congress) at first distinguished themselves by standing on principle and appealing to the state to preserve Terri Schiavo's life. But a few called for defiance of authority, suggesting Florida officials disobey court orders, "rescue" Terri from her hospice bed and reinsert her feeding tube.
The Miami Herald reported Saturday that agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park they were going to conduct such an operation. The newspaper said agents backed down rather than confront local police outside the hospice. Certain people seem to be arguing that only those laws and judicial rulings with which they agree are to be obeyed. That invites anarchy.
Some of those calling for the law to be disobeyed were ordained clergy, which is especially troubling.
What do these ordained men mean by encouraging people to break the law? Have they not read, or taken seriously, Romans 13, the chapter in which Paul, the Apostle, says, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
The footnote in the New International Version reminds the reader that the "governing authorities" at the time these verses were written were probably pagans and Paul said to submit to them anyway. That's difficult to get around, especially for those who take the Bible seriously, if not literally.
Should Gov. Jeb Bush have defied the courts and ordered that Terri Schiavo be "rescued"? Perhaps he had such authority, perhaps not. But that does not give people, especially Christians, the right to rebel against judicial authority. Only when they are ordered to stop preaching the Gospel are they permitted to disobey. They can, and should, work within the system to change judges and the way laws are interpreted.
Christians, especially, put themselves in the position of using politics and civil authority to force those who do not accept their religious premises and beliefs to behave as if they do. To achieve their objectives, would they be more effective laboring inside hospices for days, weeks, even years in support of the infirm, or do they best advance their cause outside hospices, performing for eager cameras and quote-takers?
This does not demean the substance of their pro-life argument, which I share, but it does suggest they may be employing inferior weapons -- such as politics and the media -- instead of superior ones, such as grace and selflessness.
It does not help their argument that some clerical and political leaders had e-mails and Web pages that directed people to links that afford them the opportunity to make contributions, not necessarily to Terri Schiavo, but to the "ministry" of her self-appointed defenders.
The biggest lesson from the Schiavo case -- and it is one that must be sent to as many people as possible -- is this: The courts are a mess and need to be reformed. Judges should be appointed who believe not only in the Constitution, but also that our rights are endowed from outside the state. Fundamental rights are not granted or denied by judges who create and eliminate them at will.
Had Terri Schiavo been pregnant and wanted to abort, her husband would have no legal say in the matter, but he has ultimate power over her life and death. Isn't it legally inconsistent that courts may no longer sentence 17-year-old killers to death, but Terri Schiavo, who has injured no one, has been sentenced to death by the courts?
Here is a political-moral-ethical question worthy of continued debate. That debate must not die with Terri Schiavo. If it goes on, she will have taught many a valuable lesson and her life will have made an important contribution to the nation and to others in the future who will share her condition, but not necessarily her fate.
-- Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.