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Some Thoughts on
by James K. Hoffmeister
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Recently Cardinal Arinze (Rome) and two Colorado Roman Catholic Bishops  made pronouncements regarding the status of parishioners who vote for candidates for public office who are pro choice. Specifically, these pronouncements make it quite clear that the Roman Catholic Church mandates that abortions are a violation of the teachings of their church, and that those who support political candidates and/or such policies should either be denied, or at least should not participate in , the sacrament of Communion. It is fortunate that these Church leaders have made such clear statements. The fact that they are so unequivocal has made it possible for more progressive religious leaders, both within and outside of the Roman Catholic tradition, to react to the consequences of such opinions as they impact on the basic freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.

Do religious leaders have a right to state their opinions regarding such matters, according to their particular religious traditions? The obvious response is "of course they do.  In America the right to speak openly and passionately on a wide variety of issues is one of our most cherished freedoms.

Do parishioners, or other religious leaders within a particular religious tradition, have the right to disagree with or criticize such pronouncements? Again the answer is "of course they do. However, the more authoritarian the structure of the religious tradition, or the more power assumed (or presumed) by those who make such pronouncements, the more this situation is likely to lead to attempts to censor and/or purge those who disagree with them. Depending on the magnitude of the disagreements, a congregation, or a larger group of a particular religious tradition, may split over such issues and new traditions and congregations may be formed.

Do persons outside a particular congregation or religious tradition have a right to criticize the "truth" of such pronouncements? Here the response is again "yes. However, if one does not accept the basic premises of a particular religious tradition, it may be difficult to argue persuasively that a particular pronouncement is true. Nevertheless, it is very appropriate and important to consider the consequences of such religious statements in the context of the larger society within which they are asserted.

The United States was not founded on any one particular religious tradition.  In fact, many, if not most, of the Founders were so disenchanted with and alarmed by the policies and actions of leaders of some religious groups that they were determined to ensure that the citizens of the United States would never again have to endure such experiences. The Bill of Rights was written to guarantee that Americans would not have to suffer the treatment by religious groups that many of the founders had experienced in their own lives. It is in this context that statements such as those of the clergy  should be evaluated: specifically, how do they impact the basic freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the United States: including those referred to in the Declaration of Independence, i.e., the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,  and those specifically articulated in the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution (the Bill of Rights).

The pronouncements of the Bishops and Cardinal Arinze are inconsistent with and would dramatically limit, if not do away with, the basic rights stated in our Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It is critical that efforts be made to fully inform Americans about the potential consequences of such pronouncements on our basic freedoms. Many Americans are only dimly aware of the statements made in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Strategies need to be articulated and implemented to heighten awareness and appreciation of the wisdom of our founders as expressed in these documents. Our basic freedoms should never be taken for granted.  They will only be preserved if those who believe in them muster the resolve and energy to get more people out to vote for candidates who treasure them than do those who would replace them with religious doctrine.


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