Howard County Executive Charles Ecker's nomination of a socially conservative minister to the county's Human Rights Commission has set off a predictable controversy. Based on stands taken in the past by the minister, women's groups and gay/lesbian groups oppose the nomination of the Rev. D. Walter Collett, pastor of Columbia's Covenant Baptist Church. These groups believe Collett might attempt to extend human rights protections to fetuses, at the expense of a woman's right to an abortion, and that he would oppose extension of civil rights for gays and lesbians in the fields of housing, employment, health care and the like.
In responding to reporters, Collett left little doubt that he believes that homosexuality is sinful, and that fetuses are "babies" whose rights deserve protection. Collett added, however, that he is "not in favor of bashing homosexuals" because "it is not the legal or the Christian thing to do, and I believe we should act within the confines of the law. If the law is not just, it should be changed." This is a point worth exploring in the context of the present controversy.
The right to secure safe, legal abortions is indisputably the law of the land. It has been a protected constitutional right since the Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision, Roe vs. Wade, in 1973, and the Maryland legislature in 1991 enacted a law which codified Roe vs. Wade. If Collett goes onto the Human Rights Commission, will he recognize the right to abortion as the law of the land, whether he agrees with it or not? If he cannot give such assurances, he should work to overturn the law rather than take a seat on a board which could require him to "act within the confines of the law" which violates his conscience.