The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Let’s reconsider banning the religious from politics

Posted by Bill Nance on September 17, 2008

It’s a provocative headline to be sure, but it’s not without some merit at this point.

No, I’m not talking about the fundamentalist Protestants. As much as I personally despise the beliefs of these religious fanatics and consider them to be an affront to both common sense and all that is good and decent, they aren’t the subject of this article.

I’m talking about Catholics.

This isn’t some general anti-religious position. As a matter of fact I’m all for the original idea, as enshrined in our constitution, that there shall be “no religious test” for public office.  But lately I’m wondering if the founding fathers didn’t make a mistake.

As you may have been reading lately, the Catholic Church has increasingly refused communion to politicians who vote for abortion rights, or indeed merely fail to oppose them. Lately this tactic has even been used against people who support the “wrong” political candidate.

In case you are not a Catholic, you may not understand what a devastating thing it is to be denied communion. The Eucharist is probably the most profound religious experience in the daily lives of many Catholics. The prospect of being denied this rite i something which makes most Catholics shudder.

But in case after case, the Catholic Church is increasingly taking a strand not just in terms of its own doctrine, but directly threatening politicians as well as private citizens for their votes.

This is complete anathema to everything this country has stood for over 232 years, and threatens to take us back to the days when Catholics were not trusted to be national politicians because Protestants feared they would be doing the bidding of Rome, rather than the business of the American people.

When John F. Kennedy stood for election in 1960 he had to reassure voters that he would not be taking marching orders from the Pope. After nearly 2000 years of meddling in the affairs of governments world wide, voters were quite understandably skeptical that the first ever Catholic President could effectively separate his constitutional duties from his allegiances to the Church.

In his famous 1960 speech delivered to the Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy said:

“But let me stress again that these are my views–for contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters–and the church does not speak for me.

“Whatever issue may come before me as President–on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject–I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

That was some 50 years ago and at the time, the official position of the Catholic Church was in line with Kennedy’s absolute commitment to the separation of Church and State.

But it seems that times have changed, and the Catholic hierarchy’s continued attempts to interfere with our politician’s exercise of their constitutional duties calls into question whether we can any longer afford ignore religious affiliation.

Even private citizens are no longer safe from the direct meddling of the Church in our political lives. As recently as April, the pro-life Catholic scholar and former Reagan Administration official Doug Kmiec was denied communion for supporting Barack Obama.

How long will it be until Church officials demand to be consulted before Senate votes, their opinions given as holy commands from God?

How long will American Catholics tolerate this behavior from their church?

Catholics had better make up their minds on this issue and insist that their church stop it’s direct interference in secular affairs; and do it soon. Because frankly if they don’t, the next time a Catholic politician runs for office he’s going to have a much harder time than Kennedy did convincing the American public:

“I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

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4 Responses to “Let’s reconsider banning the religious from politics”

  1. pedigree said

    Im all for banning religion completely. All religion should be banned, mindless billions doing what theyre told by guy guy in a skirt, fearing that unless they do what he says, that theyll be sentenced to eternity in hell.

    “Do what I say or you will pay the ultimate price” – screw that.

  2. Bill Nance said

    Pedigree:
    I disagree completely. The right to freedom of conscience is one of the foundations of all free societies. As much as I detest religious fanaticism, I would not try to ban or restrict it, and would be foolish to try.

    Reason is always the answer to fanaticism. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, but eventually, reason wins. -Ask the Pope about Galileo if you don’t believe me. And the answer to ugly speech is always more speech, never censorship.

    In the U.S. we have enshrined into our constitution the concept that no religious test shall be made as a requirement to hold public office. The title of my article was meant draw attention. The substance of the article was to draw Catholic’s attention to the disturbing trend of their church. I genuinely fear that religious tests may indeed be necessary if churches do not stop meddling in strictly secular affairs. Such a thing would be potentially catastrophic to American democracy. We would be, because of religion’s own actions, placed back in time to an era when religious dogma and private conscience became matters for war and persecution.

    Only the religious themselves can save us from this fate. The best I can do is to point out the danger.

  3. Anon said

    You are a bigot and bigots should be banned from politics.

    Works for me.

  4. Bill Nance said

    What specifically do you disagree with Anon, or was that just a random ad hominem?

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