The Florida judge who presided over the Terri Schiavo case received a special award from a local legal association Thursday, prompting more controversy in a legal battle that brought him national attention and criticism from the religious right.
The West Pasco Bar Association gave Judge George Greer its Special Service Award at a banquet honoring his entire 13-year judicial career—not just the Schiavo case.
“It’s like a lifetime achievement award for an actor,” Alan Scott Miller, a member of the association, told the Tampa Tribune.
Outside, about 15 protestors carried signs criticizing the 63-year-old Republican judge for issuing a court order to remove a feeding tube from the brain-damaged woman. Schiavo, 41, died on March 31, 13 days after the tube was removed, ending a seven-year legal battle between her parents, who wanted to keep her alive, and her husband, who said she should be allowed to die.
Protest signs read “You Are Awarding A Murderer” and “Jesus Would Feed Terri,” according to the Associated Press.
“The injustice goes on,” said protestor Mary Kimball of Tampa. “They’re spitting on Terri’s grave.”
Greer was first elected as a judge in 1992 and was re-elected three times, including twice after he first ruled in 2000 that Schiavo’s feeding tube could be removed.
After his finding that evidence showed Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and had told her husband that she didn’t want to be kept on life support, Greer became a target of criticism by pro-life groups across the country. He received death threats and calls for his impeachment. He also withdrew his membership from a Southern Baptist church, because of the controversy.
“These past several years have been a bit trying,” Greer told the audience, according to the AP. “You see my friends out there at the gate. I thank you for not inviting them in.”
Before Greer received the award, 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Morris Silberman said, “What Judge Greer did, and what judges in general do, is they look to the law, they look for guidance in the law, and they come up with the best answers they can within the law,” the Tampa Tribune reported.
Baptist Press reported March 18 that Greer had withdrawn his membership at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., following an exchange of letters with Pastor William Rice.
Rice, who attended the church as a teenager and returned as pastor five months ago, said he wrote Greer after reading comments by the judge in the St. Petersburg Times saying he had stopped attending and contributing to the church because of criticism, including an editorial in the Baptist state newspaper, which is sent church members along with the church newsletter.
In an exchange of letters, Rice said: “We communicated about his relationship with the church and his public statements that he had withdrawn from the church and statements that he had made in the paper about his relationship with the church. We communicated about the nature of his commitment to the church and what he wanted that to be in the future.”
Rice wrote a commentary in the March 17 Florida Baptist Witness publicly identifying the church as pro-life.
“This [Schiavo] case seems complex but it is as simple as four words: ‘Thou shalt not kill,'” Rice wrote. “If you need a compass for this complex case, you’ll find it there. As we all know, the Sixth Commandment means it is wrong to murder–to take the life of an innocent person without just cause. If I were the nurse in that hospice center and the directive were given to me to discontinue feeding a living human being and watch as he or she starved to death, I couldn’t do it. I’d rather get fired, resign, or do something else.”
The conservative Web site World Net Daily on March 29 quoted Rice as counseling Greer with these words: “You must know that in all likelihood it is this case which will define your career and this case that you will remember in the waning days of life. I hope you can find a way to side with the angels and become an answer to the prayers of thousands.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Previous related story:
Activist Calls for Pressure on Baptist Judge in Right-to-Die Case