When one hears the word, “nullification,” it is usually most likely to bring up images of state or local noncompliance, possibly interposition and maybe a jury refusing to convict an accused person because a certain “law” on the books is unjust. Yet the roots of nullification go far deeper than that.
Those with even a slight connection to Judeo-Christian beliefs will easily be able to find examples in both the Old and New Testament of groups and individuals simply willing to tell their governments “no” when in their hearts they believed obeying government meant disobeying God. Author’s personal experience, in an era when few Catholic clergy are willing to rock the boat, it is refreshing to read of two priests willing to look the federal beast in the eye and say, “This is wrong, and I will not go along quietly.”
The first, Fr. Ray Leonard, appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger. This New Jersey priest, after decades of parish work and overseas missionary activity in China, finally took a contract position at a naval base in St. Mary’s, GA. No sooner had he begun his new assignment than the government shutdown hit. All Catholic services were suspended.
Even after offering to work without pay, he was refused. Though the courts might not be the best place to go if one wants a change in the federal government’s policy, one has to admire the courage of this single priest in fighting, in any form, the injustice of a government that denies our men and women in uniform the rights we civilians take for granted, especially the right to practice our faith. Fr. Leonard hopes the lawsuit he is pursuing despite the end of the federal shutdown will result in contract priests being recognized as essential personnel and/or being permitted to volunteer their time in any future shutdown. Hopefully he will win, but if he does not, hopefully he and others will have the courage to tell our government, “You say I can’t, but I say I must,” when it comes to caring for souls.
The second, Fr. Frank Pavone, is no stranger to controversy and issues that inevitably stir up strong emotions. He is the National Director of Priests for Life, a pro-life organization of Catholic clergy. The organization, along with Fr. Pavone personally, Janet Morana and Dr. Alveda King, has mounted a legal challenge to the Health and Human Services mandate that requires coverage for abortions, contraceptives and sterilizations under all insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act, with a very narrow religious exemption.
While Fr. Pavone is going through the courts, he has also made clear that whatever the outcome of the case, in his own words, “We will not obey this mandate. We do not adapt to injustice. We oppose it.” That doesn’t leave room for interpretation. On the most local of levels, the individual and organizational level, he has said he will not comply, which is what the Tenth Amendment movement is all about. He gets it in a way that few do.
Nullification can be found in examples from people of all religious backgrounds, or even of no religion at all. It involves people seeing what is oppressive and tyrannical in our government and refusing to be a part of it. It involves, to paraphrase, a proper knowledge of what is Caesar’s and what is God’s, so a proper rendering can be made (Matthew 22:20-22). It involves knowing there are times when obeying God means disobeying man (Acts 5:29), which is perfectly consistent with our founding, for
“Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” – Thomas Jefferson