BY KEITH MICHAEL ESTRADA
What does it mean to be "pro-life"? This is a question I asked myself when I first dived into the student culture at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The campus has a very positive reputation for protecting the lives of the pre-born and those near death; people here call themselves "pro-life." However, I was forced to ask myself: is that all being "pro-life" means? The answer I found was surprisingly controversial. I thought to myself, "If I am going to be consistent and honest, I must love and protect all lives with consistency and honesty." It isn't rocket science, but it is unpopular in many environments, including our own.
I found myself in a difficult position: I was at a Catholic school that pledged full fidelity to the Church and her teaching, but I thought I found a major teaching that was, at times, rejected in the name of something called "prudential judgment."
I decided to start a group on campus that would promote a full and consistent adherence to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which included a full adoption of what many call the "Consistent Life-ethic." This was an environment where the death penalty was applauded by plenty, war celebrated by the masses, torture condoned, and unjust abuses tolerated. It should not be surprising that a sense of hostility arose when a recent transfer decided to start a group that says "No!" to the loudest voices on campus and insisted that to be "pro-life" is to love and protect all life.
Enter our organization: Students for a Fair Society. I decided reinforcements were needed; the message that all life was actually intrinsically valuable had to be promoted. There had to be some students on campus who felt the same way I did, and there were enough students to start a group, a group dedicated to embracing the wholeness of Catholic teaching without diluting it with political ideology. This group of students became known as Students for a Fair Society. This group did not start without opposition from students, faculty, and staff. To this day we are not sure why there was such opposition. We just wanted to be Catholics at a Catholic school; what is wrong with that?
In less than a year of publicly rejecting an incomplete pro-life culture, we've targeted many issues pertinent to the flourishing of all human life. We observed "no bullying or name calling week" as our first event. Bullying causes so much emotional turmoil, and can lead to self-harm, sometimes to the point of suicide. We distributed flyers that pointed out the huge problem of pornography, along with a suggested ten-step solution for ending an addiction.
When we heard that a young high school student in the city died due to a house fire, we quickly assembled to raise funds for the funeral and rebuilding costs. We hosted a talk on Islam in order to promote inter-faith dialogue, solidarity, and peace. A few of us even held a demonstration outside of a Rick Santorum rally in order to show the lack of a consistent life-ethic. We held a prayer vigil for a man who was on death row, the night before he was scheduled to be executed. We started organizing with the local community to stand up against violence, leading to a participation in the community's March for Peace and Love.
We've essentially tried to act upon the notion that all life has value, and that we are called to serve and protect all life. That is why we are involved in environmental causes as well. We are hosting a panel on the costs and benefits to life in the natural gas industry and showing a documentary on the threat of climate change. We recently started an anti-human trafficking campaign this semester, along with an anti-spiritual and intellectual poverty outreach that serves the inner-city youth.
Students for a Fair Society is an organization that seeks "to bring the 'pro-life' movement to its more perfect fulfillment." There is no doubt in my mind that people will come to see that we must protect all life if we are ever to find authentic progress as a human community. All it takes is a little bit of clear thinking, and courageous people to show these truths to others.
Keith Michael Estrada is a graduate student of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville and is the founder of Students for a Fair Society. For more information, see www.studentsforafairsociety.org.