Memorial Archive Honors Distinguished Attorney William Bentley Ball

By Father Paul CB Schenck

Special to “The Catholic Witness” (Diocese of Harrisburg)


On Monday night, October 17 at the Good n’Plenty restaurant in Lancaster, it was my honor to “unveil” the William Bentley Ball Memorial Archive to be located in the shadow of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. I was there together with William Ball’s daughter, Virginia “Ginny” Duncan, Director of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, and Ginny’s mother, Mrs. Caroline Ball.



The late William Bentley Ball, a Harrisburg attorney, became a distinguished U.S. Supreme Court Advocate. He argued nine cases as lead counsel before the High Court and assisted in 25 others. In his multiple appearances before State Supreme Courts, Federal Appellate Courts and the United States Supreme Court, Attorney Ball defended religious freedom as the first freedom and a fundamental human right.

Mr. Ball graduated from The University of Notre Dame School of Law in 1948. Upon graduation he practiced corporate law as a lawyer for W. R. Grace & Company and Pfizer, Inc., and served as a founding faculty member of the Villanova University Law School. Mr. Ball was active in the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Council, the Christian Legal Society and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He also served as the executive director and legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference in Harrisburg.

In 1968 he founded the law firm of Ball, Skelly, Murren, and Connell with practice in Harrisburg, which then served as legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Conference. His landmark case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, involved a state requirement that all children attend a public school until 16, which the Amish claimed violated their First Amendment rights. Mr. Ball represented the Amish, contending that the Wisconsin law violated their fundamental human rights, specifically their right to religious freedom.

One of the issues of greatest concern to Mr. Ball was the primacy of parents in the education and nurture of their children. He is rightly credited as having laid a foundation stone for the school choice movement. In one of his most famous cases, Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993) he established the legal precedent now being used for the defense of voucher or educational credits by the proponents of parental choice. In that case, he successfully vindicated the right of a hearing-impaired Catholic school student to the assistance of a sign-language interpreter provided by the local public school district.

William Ball was also a strong pro-life advocate. His defense of the unalienable Right to Life as a fundamental human right was a polestar in his life work and informed his legal, political, cultural and social participation. He lived a life of moral coherence and worked to build coalitions and alliances with others dedicated to the fundamental human rights concerns of our age. Among his writings were two influential books, “Mere Creatures of the State: On Education, Religion and the Courts” and “In Search of a National Morality: A Manifesto for Evangelicals and Catholics.”

William Bentley Ball, in a sense, left two legacies. One deserves a physical place of honor, where his legal work, writings and artifacts will be displayed. The other is a living legacy which will continue his work. In the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, he is one of those “great men” needed at this critical time in history. The William Bentley Ball Memorial Archives on Capitol Hill, located in the Justice William Ostrowski House of the National Pro-Life Center will be the location of that work. The website is

(Father Paul CB Schenck, Director of the Respect Life Office in the Diocese of Harrisburg, is also Chairman of the National Pro-Life Center in Washington, D.C.)



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