Democrats to bishops: Shut up!

Posted: May 23, 2004 12:00 AM

 Democrats aren't satisfied with building a stone wall between church and state. They now want a moat between church and politicians. That's the message being pushed by 48 Catholic congressmen, who have warned Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., in a letter that anti-Catholic bigotry will revitalize if bishops refuse communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

 "For many years, Catholics were denied public office by voters who feared that they would take direction from the pope. While that type of paranoid anti-Catholicism seems to be a thing of the past, attempts by church leaders today to influence votes by the threat of withholding a sacrament will revive latent anti-Catholic prejudice, which so many of us have worked so hard to overcome," the letter reads.

 So now, politicians want immunization from the consequences of their anti-religious actions. They want protection from religious retaliation. What a bunch of wimps.

 This situation is very simple: Politicians must make a choice. If they seek respect from their religion, they must follow that religion. If the voters dislike the politician because of his/her religious adherence, the politician will get the boot. If the politician wants to avoid electoral defeat, he/she has the choice to dismiss religious convictions. But there is no question that the Catholic Church should play a role in defining the actions of its members.

 I'm an Orthodox Jew, so I have no ax to grind when it comes to Catholic theology. But religion in general has a major role to play in today's political society. The purpose of religion is to set a standard for values and actions undertaken by that religion's adherents. If a religion ceases to punish breaches of its moral system, that religion loses all credibility.

 Take Judaism, for example. Let's say that Sen. Joe Lieberman decides to endorse abortion on demand. Now, Joe decides that he doesn't want his rabbi condemning him for contravening Jewish law. "Hey, rabbi," he says. "Let's just forget about my little abortion problem. I don't want to get excommunicated. And if you excommunicate me, and I revise my abortion ideas, all those Jew haters will say: 'Look at those Jews in Congress. They don't care about America, just about their rabbi.'"

 Here's what a good rabbi would say: "Sorry, Joe. You favor easy-access abortion? Don't expect to get an invitation for Sabbath."

 And here's what a bad rabbi (or a fake rabbi) would say: "Joe, you're right. God just wants you to do what your heart tells you. I don't have any responsibility in this matter. Plus, those Jew haters might not hate us so much if we stop acting Jewish."

 When the bad rabbi gives Lieberman permission to endorse abortion, he's doing a disservice to Lieberman and to Judaism. Spiritually, Lieberman has to make the difficult choice between re-election and religion, if that is indeed the choice.

 These Catholic Democrats can't expect to get off the hook, either. Their real complaint isn't that Catholic haters will hate them. It's that they want their communion, no matter what they do. It's that they can't win their Catholic votes without communion. They want to avoid making a decision.

 Imagine a world in which organized religion didn't force a decision between the godly and the popular. That's the dream world of the liberals. In truth, it's religion and religion only that keeps the American public in favor of traditional values for the long haul.

 The Pew Research Center for People and Press highlighted this in a November 2003 poll: While 51 percent of Americans disapproved of gay marriage, 80 percent of those with a high religious commitment opposed gay marriage. ABC News conducted a poll on abortion which found that of those who oppose abortion, 50 percent cite religious beliefs as justification; those in favor of abortion cite religion less than 10 percent of the time.

 Without a set of beliefs that guide behavior, religion means nothing. These Catholic politicians are essentially asking that the Church debase itself so that they can get re-elected on a platform contradictory to Catholicism. They are asking the Church to discard its right of free speech and to subvert its own values for sake of personal political gain. This makes me wonder: Do these Democrats care about religion at all, or is that just another political weapon in their arsenal? If so, it's about time the Church disarmed them.

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