Our nation is not a theocracy, it is a secular representative democracy. There is no religious litmus test for office. On the other hand, the US is the most religious country in the industrialized West. Thus, it is inevitable that religion and politics intersect at multiple levels.
Each of us (whether atheist, deist, or something in between) uses our internal value system to make decisions. But a distinction needs to be made in using those values to make our own decisions vs. imposing them on others and right now, we aren't doing so well at that.
I wrote recently,
I believe that the knee-jerk response against religion in the political sphere is largely driven as a response to the conservative religionists who are attempting to force their view of morality on all others by "majority rules". (Just think: if "majority rules" ruled, then "activist judges" would never have de-segregated the South). This is because it is the conservatives who are most active in limiting the fundamental rights of others. How do we establish meaningful discourse and protect ALL our rights, when we have such profound disagreements?
Let's consider some examples of this. In the aftermath of Prop 8 in California, we can look at how different churches addressed the issue. The Episcopalians came out against the measure. They put banners in front of their churches and individual priests such as the estimable Susan Russell of All Saints Pasadena were vocal on the airwaves. But while the institution's view was clear, they did not insist that their parishioners donate or vote in any particular way and they did not make institutional donations.
Let's contrast this to the Catholics, who vigorously advocated a "Yes" vote--indeed, my wife on our wedding Sunday was the victim of a spittle-flecked hate sermon at a Catholic church near our wedding hotel which reduced her to tears. And then, of course, there are the Mormons, who bankrolled the pro-prop 8 campaign, and used their considerable social clout on their members to ensure donations and votes. Now, they are all complaining that they are being unfairly targeted for expressing their religious freedom of speech; several high profile pro-8 donors in the entertainment industry have found themselves unable to continue working because the gay people who work with them refuse to do further business.
I have mixed feelings about this, because I believe religious beliefs and votes are private and personal matters. Where does advocacy cross the line from a private act to a public one? Because it does.
John Aravosis writes,
When you use the power of the state to rip away my civil rights, and force me to live by your 'values,' you are no longer practicing your religion. You're practicing politics.and Dan Savage convincingly agrees,
A donation to a political campaign is a public matter; and civil marriage rights for same-sex couples did not infringe upon the religious freedom of Mormons, devout or otherwise....If Raddon wanted to go to church and pray his little heart out against same-sex marriage, or proselytize on street corners against gay marriage, or counsel gay men to leave their husbands and marry nice Mormon girls instead, that could be viewed as an expression of his "privately held religious beliefs." Instead he helped fund a political campaign to strip a vulnerable minority group of its civil rights.I myself find it gob-smackingly remarkable that a big argument of the Pro-8 campaigners is their religious freedom: if I marry, that impinges on their freedom to discriminate. I , the atheist, certainly have no objection to Catholics or Mormons opposing my marriage; my wife never would expect the Catholic church to perform our wedding. They are free to practice their faith as they see fit. But it crosses the line when they reach their religious values into the civil sphere and force ME to live them. I am not Catholic. I am not Mormon. I do not believe in God. It is wrong for them to insist that I live by "God's rules".
Let's turn away from Prop 8 to a related subject. The Bush administration want to give physicians, pharmacists and others expanded rights of "medical refusal".
The LA Times :
The outgoing Bush administration is planning to announce a broad new "right of conscience" rule permitting medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control.......The new rule would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients.This isn't just about abortion. This is also about pharmacists providing birth control pills (BCP), for example. And let's remember that there are medical non-pregnancy related reasons for BCP; I had to use them myself for a while, and as a lesbian, I can assure you that pregnancy is not a concern! No matter, these protesting pharmacists would make the MEDICAL decision whether I as a woman should have them.
Or in vitro fertilization. There was a case in California where the physician refused to provide treatment to a lesbian couple. It's not that the doctor had a moral problem with the treatment, and therefore refused to perform it on anyone. No, the doctor had a problem with the patient. Let's take this to its logical conclusion and we could see a physician allowed to deny treatment to a Hispanic man, a black woman, or a child of two gay fathers because of "personal convictions".
Physicans, pharmacists and others are licensed by the state to provide care. They should not be allowed to insert their religious beliefs into who gets treated. If they refuse to provide a treatment (e.g., abortion) they must refuse it to all, and provide information on where the patient can go. If they are not able to do that, they do not deserve a medical license from the state.
The Republican party started all this by making their coalition with the Christian Right. Now the Catholics and the Mormons are in on it. We now are in the awkward position of holding the tiger by the tail and we need to put it back in the cage.
Cross posted at TPMCafe, Dailykos, and Friends of Jake.