Response to comments from Erie-area candidates in the May 2011 Pennsylvania Municipal Primary Election

People for Life thanks all those who participated in our Candidate Survey. Some candidates took the time to include additional comments and even, in a few cases, to challenge the propriety of the Survey itself. We appreciate any and all feedback.

We are not surprised when a candidate disagrees with us on the issues. But what is surprising is that some candidates seem to think that the public has no right to know where they stand on these issues, issues that are not only important but paramount for many people.

True, local public officials do not usually determine the laws and policies that are considered in the Survey, but the questions are still relevant. Polling companies ask even private citizens the same kinds of questions in order to accurately gage where they stand on abortion and related human life issues.

We will respond here in a general way to some of the additional comments that were submitted by the candidates.

Judicial Offices

Three of the candidates for District Judge stated that the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct prevented them from disclosing their views to the voters. According to the Code, “Judges should refrain from political activity inappropriate to their judicial office.” But should all “political activity” be considered “inappropriate”? Running for office is itself a political activity. Conversely, should affirming one’s support for the most basic of human rights be considered political activity in the first place?

Several state codes of judicial conduct have been challenged in court in recent years, most notably by constitutional attorney James Bopp, who serves as general counsel to National Right to Life. A number of courts have ruled that limitations on judicial candidates’ ability to express general opinions on the issues of the day are unconstitutional violations of the candidates’ First Amendment free speech rights.

Not all judicial candidates think the Code prevents them from sharing their views about human life. For example, a candidate who went on to win election to a statewide judicial office spent nearly an hour freely and forcefully sharing her pro-life views with the volunteers at our Erie County Fair outreach booth in 2009. Also that year, in the campaign for an open seat on the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, five candidates answered our questionnaire, three simply failed to respond, and only one declined to respond by invoking the Code.

Declining to respond because of concerns about the Code should not, however, be seen as evidence of pro-abortion leanings. One candidate, for example, who invoked the Code, Sue Strohmeyer, was known as a pro-life person well before she ran for public office, and we have no reason to think this has changed.

District Attorney

Incumbent District Attorney Jack Daneri took the time to respond with a formal letter even though he is running for reelection unopposed. He did, however, decline to share his views. He asserted that personal views are not relevant as long as a district attorney is faithful to his duties and the letter of the law. Unfortunately, given the constraints on time, limited resources, and, yes, political realities, law enforcement officials are obliged to constantly make decisions about when, where, and how to enforce the law. Those decisions will inevitably be influenced by an official’s personal values, sense of priorities, and perception of the character and motives of parties involved in cases that arise.

For example: Some Erie-area residents were threatened with arrest by school officials and police officers for distributing benign pro-life literature on a public sidewalk to passersby near a local high school. When one of the assistant district attorneys was consulted, he responded by admitting that this might be a violation of the pro-life resident’s free speech rights. His advice, however, was to get a good lawyer before attempting to distribute any more literature because, no matter what, the DA’s office would prosecute the leafleteers on behalf of the school district if requested to do so.

A pro-life assistant district attorney might have been more inclined to try to resolve the situation in a way that would equitably protect the rights of everyone involved, including the pro-life citizens. (This episode occurred a number of years ago and is in no way intended to reflect on the current candidate for district attorney.)

School Boards

There can be no doubt that certain elected offices are more crucial to the pro-life cause than others. The most crucial offices are those of U.S. President and U.S. Senator. The president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate confirms them. The current Supreme Court is the main obstruction to legal protection for the unborn.

The issue of abortion might not figure prominently in a race for city dog catcher, but it should not be difficult to see why a voter might be concerned about a school board candidate’s views on the subject. Nevertheless, some school board candidates do get upset when they receive our Survey. And they occasionally respond with an indignant, “None of your business!”

One school board candidate submitted pro-life responses to seven out of eight questions but still wrote that he “took exception” to the survey because abortion has “absolutely nothing to do with the position of school director.” Just the day before, ironically, we heard from a former People for Life member, Farrah Morelli, who is running for school director in Delaware. She is doing so specifically to help keep Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider and promoter, from controlling the sexuality curricula of the middle and high schools in her community.

We depend on school boards to ensure that public schools treat the pro-life viewpoint – and those who hold it – with at least a moderate amount of fairness, balance, and respect. Cases from around the nation, unfortunately, show that this is not always the case.

Remember last year when a school maintenance man in Virginia passed out a handful of educational three-month fetal models to some students? Perhaps the man should have been advised not to pass things out at school, but his immediate suspension and the fierce howls of outrage and condemnation from school officials were telling.

Abortion can become a school issue in various ways. Students are sometimes forbidden to write or speak about abortion. Teachers sometimes feel pressured to hide their personal viewpoints, even though practically every other subject is up for discussion. Students have been ordered to remove shirts with pro-life messages or to turn them inside-out even though other messages, including unseemly ones, are routinely ignored.

But while students are being thus “protected” from the topic of abortion, at the other extreme in what are hopefully truly rare instances, school personnel have helped students obtain secret abortions. No school director, except a radically pro-abortion ideologue, would condone secret abortions. But in light of such experiences, who could honestly believe that abortion and human life issues have “absolutely nothing to do with the position of school director”?