The judge at the center of a Florida right-to-die dispute is a Southern Baptist and conservative Republican, whose vilification by pro-life groups has affected his relationship with his church, according to a newspaper profile.
The St. Petersburg Times portrayed Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George W. Greer–who has ruled that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube can be removed, allowing her to die–as an unlikely figure to be at the center of an international debate.
A long-time friend described him as “the religious right.”
Pro-life groups have protested Greer’s rulings in the case. He has received e-mails and letters calling him a murderer. One man asked him if he is related to the ruthless Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. A woman who believed his decisions weren’t Christian called and asked if he thought he was going to heaven.
He has received death threats and is accompanied by deputies on his way to and from work as a security precaution.
Greer belongs to Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., but his attendance waned after a Baptist publication the church supported became critical of him.
“If I don’t like what the St. Pete Times writes about me, my only recourse is to cancel my subscription,” he said. He said he stopped his donations to the church, though he is still a member.
The Florida Baptist Witness editorialized on Terri Schiavo’s case in the Sept. 4 and Sept. 25, 2003, issues. Executive Editor James Smith called on Greer to “err on the side of conservative judgment” and urged Florida Baptists to write the judge expressing their “concern about the sanctity of human life in Terri’s case.”
Greer later told the newspaper he disagreed with the editorials and called them “unchristian.”
“There’s a difference between me saying, I think you’re in error and I wish you’d reconsider your position, as opposed to, you’re wrong, you’re dead wrong, you’re stupid,” he said in an interview with the paper’s managing editor in August.
Greer told the St. Petersburg Times that critics who condemn him in the religious press “have nothing to do with my relationship with God. They can’t affect it.”
In 2000, Judge Greer heard testimony about statements Schiavo allegedly made before she collapsed in 1990, which he ruled indicated that she would not want to live by artificial means. He determined that she was in a persistent vegetative state and ordered the feeding tube that is keeping her alive to be removed.
Her parents strongly disagreed, and have waged a legal battle to keep her alive, aided by strong support from the religious right.
“Judge Greer’s performance has been so deficient that he should be removed from the case forthwith, if not impeached,” Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public-policy think tank, wrote in an article.
Conservative commentator Alan Keyes described Greer’s order as a “judicial murder.”
Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson remarked that courts, including Greer’s, “have no moral authority to cause a vulnerable, disabled person like Mrs. Schiavo to die due to dehydration.”
D. James Kennedy commented: “It is a striking and frightening fact that in America today one state judge can be suspended from office for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from public display—as Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was in August—while another, Judge Greer, can order the death of an innocent human being without any consequence whatsoever.”
U.S. Senator Sam Brownback said, “It is disheartening and devastating for those who respect the sanctity of life that a court could rule that Terri Schiavo’s food and water be cut off.”
A Catholic publication accused Greer of “judicial homicide” and “playing God.” An online petition seeks to have him impeached. Former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry organized protests, including one at the church where Greer is a member.
A Tampa television station quoted one of hundreds of e-mails from people angry about his ruling that have flooded his office. “You’re nothing but a heartless killer in a robe,” the e-mail said. “At least the color of black fits you. I can only hope that you’ll soon die by starvation and dehydration.”
Greer said he is sometimes baffled by the more hateful criticism, but his faith has not been shaken.
“What’s so exasperating is that my faith is based on forgiveness, because that’s what God did,” Greer said. “When I see people in my faith being extremely judgmental, it’s very disconcerting.”
Greer told the St. Petersburg paper that his oath is to follow the law. “If I can’t follow the law, I need to step down,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.