Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor who co-authored the popular Manhattan Declaration, has explained that the document was intended to speak at a time when “important decisions” are being made concerning the sanctity of human life, the nature of marriage and religious freedom.
Speaking in a Dec. 1 interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, George said the statement’s backers wanted to bear witness to “three foundational principles of justice and the common good.”
These three principles were the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the union of husband and wife, and religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
George explained that in the view of the signers, important political and cultural decisions are now being made concerning these principles.
“These decisions will either uphold or undermine what is just and good. There is no avoiding the issues or evading the decisions,” he told National Review Online.
Explaining why the Manhattan Declaration was intended only for Christian signatories, George said that Catholicism, Evangelical, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy have failed to speak with a “united voice” despite their “deep agreement” on moral issues.
“The Manhattan Declaration provided leaders of these traditions with an opportunity to rectify that. It is gratifying that they were willing — indeed eager — to seize that opportunity,” he added.
George clarified that the foundational principles defended in the Declaration are not unique to the Christian tradition as a whole.
In the words of Cardinal Justin Rigali, they are principles that can be “known and honored by men and women of goodwill even apart from divine revelation.”
According to George, so many Catholic bishops signed the document because “they understand the profound truths it proclaims and the urgency of proclaiming them” and they understand the importance of “standing shoulder to shoulder with leaders of other Christian traditions in a common witness.”
He added that signatories are happy to join members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jews, and people of no particular faith who affirm these principles and want to join in defending them.
Discussing characterizations of people as liberals or conservatives, George noted that several signatories are politically liberal and many of those called conservatives today were liberal activists in the 1960s.
“They are today ‘conservatives’ and no longer ‘liberals’ because mainstream liberalism has embraced a combination of statism and moral libertarianism that they regard — rightly in my view — as deeply misguided,” he commented.
Prof. George said he hoped that President Obama will understand the determination of Manhattan Declaration signatories to defend human life, marriage and religious freedom.
“On these issues, they cannot compromise, and they will not remain silent,” he added.
Asked about the Declaration’s mention of civil disobedience, George said he and his co-signers believe in the rule of law and recognize an obligation to comply with laws.
“That obligation is defeasible, however. Gravely unjust laws, and especially laws that seek to compel people to do things that are unjust, do not bind in conscience,” he stressed, citing the hypothetical example of pro-life gynecologists being compelled by law to perform abortions or risk their careers.
Countering descriptions of the Declaration’s rhetoric as “dangerous,” George said there is “nothing new or surprising” in the statement. On civil disobedience the Declaration “simply affirms what Christianity has always taught.”
As of Friday afternoon, the Manhattan Declaration had over 282,000 signers.
Its website is at http://www.manhattandeclaration.org