Sexual Liberation and
|‘The first draft of a great work’|
Lawfare against Christendom
E. Michael Jones
In October 1976, as part of that city’s celebration of the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, a law professor by the name of Leo Pfeffer arrived in Philadelphia to give a paper to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion called “Issues that Divide: The Triumph of Secular Humanism.” The sexual revolution was now over in America, and it was over because it succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its most perfervid supporters. During the fifteen years prior to Pfeffer’s talk, America had quite simply revised its culture to eliminate laws which conflicted with sexual libertinism. If America were a computer, one could say that the default settings had been changed. At the beginning of the seventh decade of the twentieth century, the culture of the country was based on a pan-Protestant reading of Christianity whose assumptions favored, in imperfect form albeit, a rough approximation of the moral law. By the end of the decade, the default settings had been changed in favor of a culture that was individualistic, rationalistic, and hedonistic, especially in matters sexual. It was not just that people’s behavior had changed; those changes had been inscribed in the both culture and the constitution, or at least how it was interpreted, in the rules that governed people’s lives, and Leo Pfeffer was one of the main agents of that change.
At the time of his talk in Philadelphia, Leo Pfeffer was professor of constitutional law and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. The credentials seemed hardly distinguished. In a profession where prestige exists in inverse proportion to the amount of time an academic spends in the classroom, Professor Pfeffer had what seemed to be a distinctly unglamorous joint appointment in an undistinguished state school. A look at the awards he had garnered in the years before the talk, however, gives a better indication of his accomplishments and the changes he himself was instrumental in bringing about. Born in Hungary on Christmas Day in 1910, Pfeffer arrived in the United States at the age of two, was naturalized a citizen in 1917, and married in 1937. At the time of his speech in Philadelphia in 1976, Pfeffer had received awards from Americans (formerly Protestants and Other Americans) United for the Separation of Church and State, the Minnesota Jewish Community Council, the New York Unitarian Universalist Church, the Brooklyn Civil Liberties Union, the Horace Mann League, the Unitarian-Universalist Association, the American Jewish Congress and the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty.
At the time of his talk he was Special Counsel to the American Jewish Congress, as well as counsel for the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, and a member of the advisory committee on the National Project for Film and the Humanities. In the years following his talk he would receive an award from the American Jewish Congress in 1980 and the Humanist of the Year Award in 1988. Pfeffer’s bio reads like a road map of the revolutionary changes that had swept through American society over the previous twenty years. If Pfeffer had come to talk about the “triumph of secular humanism,” he was well-qualified. He had been intimately involved in virtually all of the battles that had brought about that triumph.
Beginning with the Schempp decision in the early ’60s and ending with the Lemon decision in 1970, Pfeffer was the architect of the legal strategy which removed the last vestiges of Protestant culture from the public schools and denied government funding to Catholic schools. If his listeners wanted a description of how the triumph came about, it was clear that Pfeffer could give a first-hand account.
With the candor of a victor who had nothing more to fear from his opponents, Pfeffer was never vague about who it was he was fighting all these years. For Pfeffer, the enemy was, quite simply, the Catholic Church. In a memoir which appeared a year before his talk in Philadelphia (published with mordant irony in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal), Pfeffer went to some length to explain his animus against the Catholic Church. Pfeffer wrote
I did not like it because it was monolithic and authoritarian and big and frighteningly powerful. I was repelled by the idea that any human being could claim infallibility in any area, much less in the universe of faith and morals, and repelled even more by the arrogance of condemning to eternal damnation those who did not believe it.
The Church which Pfeffer grew up hating (if that is not too strong a word) was the Church he got to know as a Jewish immigrant in New York City. During the time Pfeffer was growing up and getting started in the legal profession, the Catholic Church was, in his opinion, “one if not the single most powerful political force in the nation.” It was a time, when, to use his own words, “Pius XI and Pius XII reigned over the Catholic world and Cardinal Spellman ruled in the United States. It was the pre-John XXIII-Vatican II era, and it was during this period that my feelings towards the Catholic Church were formed.”
In the Commonweal memoir, Pfeffer refers to his daughter’s threat when she didn’t get her way to “marry a Catholic army officer from Alabama,” because that particular configuration of Catholicism, the military, and the South embodied all that Pfeffer did not like about America. At another point Pfeffer talked about the impression Catholic schools made on him as a young man:
I often saw children lined up in separate classes as they marched in. All the children were white; each group was monosexual; all the boys wore dark blue trousers and white shirts, all the girls dark blue jumpers and white blouses; all the teachers were white and wore the same nuns’ habits.
Once Pfeffer gets started, the reasons for his animus against the Catholic Church start to pour forth in an increasingly frank as well as an increasingly hostile litany of offenses against the liberal Weltanschauung.
Pfeffer did not like the fact that the Church opposed the Equal Rights Amendment; he is annoyed that “among the children outside the parochial school on the way to my office there are only a sprinkling of black faces”; he does not like the fact that the Vatican still defends papal infallibility and Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical banning the use of contraceptives; he even opposes the practice of having first confession before first communion. (“I know it's none of my business,” he adds as if realizing that his animus is getting out of control even by his own standards, “but you asked didn't you?”) Pfeffer disliked the Church because of its size and because of its unity and because of its internal coherence and because of its universality, all of which contributed to its political power. He disliked it was well because it was, in his words, “monolithic,” because with “monolithity,” he tells us, “goes authoritarianism.”
Pfeffer had nothing against religion per se; he only opposed “monolithic,” “authoritarian” religions, i.e., religions with enough clout to have a say in how the culture got organized. (pp. 541-544)
According to Leo Pfeffer, Roth v. United States meant ‘that the Court in every case in which it accepted an appeal, would have to read the particular book or magazine or sit through a showing of the film.’ For fifteen years thereafter, randy law clerks would gather in chambers of the Chief Justices and watch porn films, shouting ‘I know it when I see it,’ the famous quote of Justice Potter Stewart, at particularly outrageous passages. (p. 380)
We can without too much difficulty make out what Pfeffer means. The only good Church was a confused Church. The more it approached the divided, tentative, and contradictory condition of Jewish and Protestant denominations, the more Pfeffer liked it. (p. 544)
E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control, St. Augustine’s Press (South Bend, Indiana), 2005. Some minor edits made, references omitted.