Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eight years later, it's still religion v. government

I did the following column back in 2004 - it's in the book - but it is active again because of a decision by the Bishop of Green Bay, David Ricken, to urge his parishoners not to vote for "evil" positions. It isn't a direct slam at one candidate and favoring another ... but it does feel like that.

I have no horse in this year's election - Obama hasn't shown himself to be successful in trying to turn around the epidemic of political plague (not to mention he's still from Chicago and a Bears fan), and Romney may change the White House to the Waffle House as he tries to woo conservatives without sounding like a sexist, hypocritical bigot - or worse, Sarah Palin.

Anyway, here's the column which I hope is self explanatory. Oh, and don't forget to buy the book.


Decree Ignores Constitution, Political Reality
January 16, 2004

  It's not often you can time something this exactly, but Bishop Raymond Burke, formerly of La Crosse, has set politics back exactly 44 years.
  By now, you've read about how Burke told Catholic lawmakers in his diocese that they could not receive Holy Communion if they supported abortion.
  It's the sort of statement that's going to raise debate. Many, including Warren Bluhm on these pages on Tuesday, believe the bishop is within his rights to make rules for those of his faith; that's what bishops do.
  Others believe, as I do, that for any religious leader to try to influence the actions of a lawmaker is out of bounds. We are not Iran or Israel; here, people, not clerics, rule.
  The bishop's actions have caused a stir in Missouri, where he will become bishop in St. Louis.
  "We as legislators have never faced anything like that from an archbishop or bishop in the state of Missouri," Missouri state Sen. Steve Stol told the Associated Press. "I think there are some citizens out there who would also look at it and question whether they want to elect someone who would change their stand because of certain religious pressure. Telling people they can't receive the sacraments changes the political landscape some."
  Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis, said he votes against abortion but doesn't like the idea of a bishop telling him he must. He said he is concerned about the potential for a similar church policy to be adopted for other issues.
  "I happen to be right as far as the incoming bishop is concerned on the pro-life stuff. I am clearly wrong on capital punishment," Villa said. "I would have a problem with anybody telling me I can't receive Communion. Your faith is something that's very personal."
  Indeed. And to my mind - and I'm not Catholic, not much of anything when it comes to religion really - it borders on extortion, as much as if someone had threatened a legislator's family. "You vote my way, or you won't see your kids again."
  Or, in this case, "you won't see your church again."
Granted, it may be that the problem, as Warren suggests, is with the legislators, and that maybe it's time for them to switch. Still, it seems here that is quite a price to pay for voting in a manner that disappoints one man - and that's all a bishop is.
  For Burke's action was individual. Bishop David Zubik of Green Bay was closer to the proper way to handle it - talk to legislators you disagree with, try to get them to see the rightness of your cause. But threats? No.
  We have representative government in our land. Legislators must continually decide on how to vote, whether by following their beliefs or representing their district. Sometimes, they don't agree with their district.
Sometimes, they vote against their own beliefs for whatever reasons they choose.
  That's how government goes. It's human, and riddled with compromises.
Religion isn't. It's strict and inflexible, incapable of allowing another side might be correct. The two are bound to clash.
  And that's why the framers of our Constitution sensibly separated the two; Congress (and all lawmakers by extension) can't hamper religion; religion is not required as a test for office. In short, religion can say whatever it wants, but it has no special standing with government.
  John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president, knew that. His campaign was targeted by those bigots who said he would make the United States a puppet of the Vatican, and other slanders. And he had to fight it until the day he was killed.
  He never did it better than in Houston, in a speech to a group of Protestant ministers:
  "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
  "For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim - but tomorrow it may be you - until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril."

He had it right 44 years ago, and the bishop has it wrong now.