Ask the Attorney: An Interview with Laurence D. Behr of Buffalo, New York
[Mr. Behr is the founder of the Western New York Lawyers for Life and the originator and driving force behind a project to build a major international shrine honoring Mary the Mother of God, and the Holy Innocents, in Buffalo, New York.]
Larry, could you give me some background on yourself?
I attended Catholic grammar and high schools in Rochester N.Y., and received a B.A. in English in 1973 from SUNY at Buffalo. In the spring of that year I had a powerful conversion experience. I then stayed out of school for five years while I studied independently religion, philosophy, art and poetry. In 1978 I entered the SUNYAB Law School, graduated magna cum laude in 1981, then clerked for two years in the federal court here in Buffalo. In 1983 I entered a large local firm’s insurance defense department, becoming a partner and also leaving in 1990. For most of the 1990’s I was a sole practitioner, and I am now a partner in Barth, Sullivan and Behr in Buffalo.
When did you start doing pro-life legal work, and what sort of work have you handled?
In 1991 attorney James Duane was defending rescuers in federal court here, and I offered assistance. I helped Jim and when he left to teach at Regent University I became attorney of record. The injunction in our case went to the Supreme Court, Schenck vs. Pro-Choice Network, and aspects of it were held unconstitutional. In the “Spring of Life” demonstrations here in 1992 I managed the defense in both state and federal court of the hundreds who were arrested, and personally handled a number of their cases. I now represent a new set of defendants in a “successor” federal action brought by N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2000.
What was the Spring of Life?
After the 1991 “Summer of Love” rescue demonstrations by Operation Rescue and the Lambs of Christ in Wichita, for various reasons I felt that Buffalo would be the next city to receive massive demonstrations. I shared that concern with other local pro-life lawyers, and so we founded Western New York Lawyers for Life, for that and other purposes. When hundreds of pro-lifers were in fact arrested here in demonstrations the next spring, we had lawyers ready to defend them all. Our group today defends pro-lifers as needed, pro bono of course. We also hold educational luncheons, and sponsor annual ecumenical fundraising banquets for crisis pregnancy centers.
Now you are engaged in a different kind of major project. Could you describe it, and how did you become involved in this?
It truly is a major undertaking, to build the world’s tallest monument, 700 feet tall (because Mary represents humanity perfected, seven being the number of perfection); an ascendable, golden triumphal arch to commemorate the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which she prophesied at Fatima in 1917, and below the arch, an International Shrine of the Holy Innocents, dedicated to the victims of worldwide abortion and affirming the sacredness of unborn human life. This project began with an uncanny and compelling dream that was described in a front-page story in the National Catholic Register that can be read on our web site. As a Christian, I believe that God communicates to us through our dreams, and there are many examples of this in the Bible and in the lives of believers. And so I accepted this great inspiration, which has won the support of the Catholic leaders of the pro-life movement—Fr. Frank A. Pavone, Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB, Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, and many others—and of very many other Catholics and Christians in the U.S., Canada, and the world.
What purpose do you see it serving?
People of all faiths—and of no faith—will be drawn to it, as people are drawn to great monuments everywhere, and even more so because ascending the Arch will be a unique experience that families can enjoy together. Over a million people ascend the Gateway Arch annually—we will put that level of attraction to work for God’s Kingdom. The Arch and Innocents Shrine will proclaim a sublime spiritual message by exalting Mary’s purity as a model and an ideal so greatly needed, by a world enmeshed in sexual license and perversion—really a primary root of the abortion plague. There is a great hunger for God today, many do not realize their hunger, but it is there, and also for Mary, as evidenced by many cover stories about her in leading secular magazines. This shrine will both encourage and feed that hunger, and will promote reverence for human life. Great shrines are invaluable teaching instruments, and often prompt conversions; in fact, I had my dream just after reading an article entitled, “The Pastoral Importance of Shrines,” whose author, Brother John Samaha, S.M. has become a staunch supporter.
Suppose someone were to object that the huge amount of money that this will cost would be better spent on practical things such as crisis pregnancy centers and legal defense?
First, few of us give as much as we can, and perhaps should. I would say, do not give less to such important causes, but make an extra sacrifice in honor of Our Lady, the Mother of all Christians, and Patroness of the Unborn—and allow God to work this miracle in our world. This great shrine will astound the whole world, and will proclaim purity of heart and respect for life unceasingly and persuasively. Great hopes have been expressed for this shrine by our leadership supporters; Fr. Habiger of Human Life International, for example, said that this project is “truly in keeping with the great hopes of the new millennium,” and “would inspire others to become part of the pro-life movement.” Millions of people who love Mary and who love the unborn could give $50 or $100 or more for this shrine, and still contribute to these other causes. Further, we believe this great shrine will help bring about a general increase of faith and devotion, and thus an increase of charitable giving.
What is your progress to date?
We have received about $30,000 from individuals across the U.S. and Canada, although we are not yet well known. The City of Buffalo has passed a Resolution supporting us, as have a number of Knights of Columbus councils. Local chapters are started in twenty cities across the continent, and we hope to start chapters in every city and town, to promote support for at the grassroots level. I would urge pro-life lawyers and activists to step forward in faith to start chapters, or serve as Regional Directors and on our Board of Directors. There is more information on our website and our toll free number is 1-866-205-6512; I also can be contacted by LDBehr@ArchofTriumph.orgemail.