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Church & State Too Close For Comfort

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Dr. Swomley is secretary of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union and is the chair of its church/state committee. Dr. Swomley also heads Americans for Religious Liberty and has authored eight books on bio-ethics and civil liberties.

What follows is an abridged version of Dr. Swomley's Sept. 24 speech at Ann Arbor's St. Andrew's Church, sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

The word "theocracy" can be defined as control of government by a church or religious organization claiming divine authority. It can also be political power exercised by religious authority or in the name of God.

The Puritans in our country controlled the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony many years ago, as a theocracy. Many in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, were not church people at all. Church people were a minority in those days. I think that's important, because some of the right-wing Christian organizations think that we should return to the days when Christianity was "the religion."

One of the things that happened in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was that they expelled people, like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, who were dissidents. They had a constable watching over every ten families and their morals, and when the jails were filled from time to time with women accused of being witches, then they hanged some of them and some of them they allowed to die in jail.

It's this model of a colony run by Puritan ministers that is widely acclaimed by certain fundamentalist Protestants today. One group known as the Coalition on Revival has an agenda that includes the following: God's law as revealed in the Old Testament should prevail in every area of life. Prisons could virtually be closed if many criminals were executed for their crimes. Offenses requiring the death penalty would include abortion, adultery, unrepentant homosexuality and so on. Like the Roman Catholic bishops, they are preoccupied with sexual matters. They indicate that schools should be run by churches and that husbands should be the heads of the households, with women and children subservient.

This Coalition on Revival is not a group to be ignored. Its steering committee is composed of 112 people, all of

(see CHURCH & STATE, page 4)

(CHURCH & STATE from page one)

whom are right-wing religious organization leaders, who represent millions of born-again Christians. Coalition members sign a covenant, with God and with each other, in which they've agreed to work toward Christianizing the United States. What they mean by "Christianizing" is their particular version of it. They are at work locally to take control over school boards, city councils, county and state legislatures and other local agencies, because this is where they believe the action is and where they can make their best appeal and not arouse antagonism on a national basis.

A second group, called the Christian Coalition, was organized in 1990 by Pat Robertson. This group also targets local and state boards and legislatures. An article in the August 26 New York Times describes the control of the Republican party by fundamentalist demagogues "who could divide the nation along religious lines." The demagogues they listed were Patrick Buchanan and Pat Robertson.

The Times editorial went on to say : There's little question that the religious right is ready to take possession of the Republican Party. An entity called the Christian Coalition was one of the most visible and energetic groups in Houston. It emerged from Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign and is dedicated to promoting its version of Christian doctrine in politics. It claims 550 chapters in 50 states and 250,000 members, compared with 100,000 a year ago. Coalition spokesmen say that 300 of the 2210 delegates were members. In addition, coalition members may have accounted for as much as a third of the party's platform committee."

The Christian Coalition is busy at this very moment. They have thousands of people out In the streets and in churches registering people to vote. They expect to sign up over two million, whom they think will make the margin of difference in re-electing President Bush.

That's not the only group that's at work. The Roman Catholic bishops have been very active on these matters. Cardinals Law and O'Connor have virtually immediate access to the White House. Cardinal O'Connor actually endorsed Bush. According to a New York Times report of August 6: "Accompanied by John Cardinal O'Connor, Mr. Bush appeared before a wildly applauding flag-waving crowd at a Knights of Columbus meeting in New York City to present himself as the nation's moral compass." He said his fundamental values were under siege.

One of the things that happened at the Republican convention is the use of the words "family values." "Family values" is a code name for a position that is anti-rights for homosexuals, It's anti-rights for women, it's anti-abortion. It is to a considerable degree (depending on the people using it) anticontraceptive birth control. In addition to that, it is anti-public schools and for privatization of education in the United States. It believes in censoring films and art objects that they consider obscene, or that criticizes their particular religion. It resists the right of personal and marital privacy. The whole concept of divorce is called into question.

The Anti-Abortion Movement

The Primary purpose of the Catholic bishops and the fundamentalist Protestant leaders is to achieve political and cultural power over the American people. The anti-abortion movement is not a movement toward moral regeneration or reform, as its phrase "pro-life" implies. It is basically an effort to get politicians and political parties to accept church dogma and to vote as church leaders want them to vote.

Last April, Cardinal O'Connor went to Indiana to speak at a Roman Catholic school. He said that if the Catholic Church fails to prevail in the United States on the issue of abortion, its moral authority on other theological matters will be seriously undermined. He called abortion "the number one challenge for the church in the United States." He remarked "if the authority of the Catholic Church is rejected on such a crucial question as human life, then questioning of the Trinity becomes child's play, as does questioning of the divinity of Christ, or any other church teaching." He went on to say that if the church could not rebut the position that many of us in this room take on abortion, "all matters, indeed the authority of God himself, will be eroded."

I'm one of those persons who thought that when people joined the Roman Catholic Church, they didn't join it because of its abortion position. I thought they joined it for the spiritual value they got out of it, or because of the liturgical way in which the church operates, or for other reasons. But here, for the first time, you get a prince of the church saying that the crucial issue for the Roman Catholic Church, on which all other matters rest, is abortion.

When he declares that It's the number one challenge, and that the church has to prevail on this or its authority would be eroded, what he's talking about is power. Not morality.

One of the things that all of us ought to keep in mind is that the position of the Roman Catholic bishops is not representative of all Roman Catholics. After the Second Vatican Council they began speaking of the Church not only as "the pope and the bishops in council" but of "the people of God." "The people of God," in the Roman Catholic sense, are not where the bishops are on contraceptive birth control, and many of them are not where the bishops are on the issue of abortion.

The "Moment of Conception " Myth

All Roman Catholic doctrine on this matter of abortion hinges on the idea that there is a moment of conception, after which there is a human being. Ifs misleading to talk of a moment of conception, when sperm meets egg following sexual intercourse. Conception is never complete until the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, which generally occurs about ten days to two weeks after ovulation. Up to 50% of all fertilized eggs do not implant. In those cases, it is not possible to talk of conception. Except in cases of in vitro fertilization (the meeting of sperm and egg in a test tube or in a dish), it is impossible to know that fertilization has taken place until implantation occurs. There is no moment of conception- there is a process involved here.

Charles Gardner, who did his doctoral research on the genetic control of brain development at the U-M Medical School's Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, has taken serious issue with this whole concept of moment of conception and the idea that a human being exists at fertilization. I'm going to quote extensively from him.

He said "the biological argument that a human being is created at fertilization comes as a surprise to most embryologists, for it contradicts all that they have learned in the past few decades." Then he noted that "in humans, when two sibling embryos combine into one"- that's after the cells that split up into two embryos combine into one - "the resultant individual person may be completely normal. If the two original embryos were determined to become particular individuals, such a thing could not happen. The embryos would recognize themselves to be different and would not unite. But here the cells seem unaware of any distinction between themselves. The only explanation Is that the individual is not fixed or determined at this stage."

He also wrote "the fertilized egg is clearly not a pre-packaged human being. Our genes give us a propensity for certain characteristics, but it is the enactment of the complex process of development that gives us our individual characteristics. So how can an embryo be a human being?" 

He goes on to say "the information required to make an eye or a finger does not exist in the fertilized egg. It exists in the positions and interactions of cells and molecules that will be formed at a later time. "He concludes that fertilization, the injection of sperm DNA into the egg, is just one of the many small steps toward human potential. He adds "it seems arbitrary to invest this biological event with any special moral significance."

In terms of embryology, a human being does not exist at conception - it is a developmental process taking about nine months. This is both biblically consistent and medically consistent, and it is also statistically consistent with the way that we operate, in that we do not count human beings from the moment of conception, but only after birth.

The United States Catholic bishops in their "Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities," issued in 1975, say that "the church has a unique responsibility to transmit the teaching of Christ and to provide moral principles consistent with that teaching." There is nothing anywhere in the Bible that opposes abortion, or that speaks about the moment of conception or the sanctity of life. I've checked it in a number of concordances. The sanctity of life idea is not in either the Hebrew or the Christian scriptures. What the bishops are talking about when they talk about the teachings of Christ, is papal statements.

In this ecumenical age, those of us who are not Catholics should point out that humility, as well as accuracy, requires that papal statements not be identified either as the teaching of Christ or with modern medical science.

Privatization of Education

The push for privatization of schools, into which they bought, is partly due to the fact that the largest-growing group of private or religious day schools in the country are fundamentalist. The organization of which I am president, Americans for Religious Liberty, did an analysis recently of the textbooks published for the fundamentalist Protestant schools, and discovered enormous sections that were anti-Catholic, antiSemitic, anti-Anglican and anti-Unitarian. After the House Education Committee had approved, under pressure from Bush, school vouchers and school choice including religious schools, they were given copies of our preliminary statement, which is now being published in book form. They reversed their position.

A copy was given to Senator Kennedy's staff. He's the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. They came out opposed to this. Senator Mitchell, who 's the Senate majority leader and a Roman Catholic, was given a copy, and he has come out against this. In Pennsylvania, after the Senate passed the school voucher proposal, we gave copies to the House Education Committee and then the House refused to appropriate it.

The whole idea of school choice does not simply aid Roman Catholic parochial schools - which is what the bishops thought when they initiated school choice- but it also aids schools which take an anti-Catholic and anti-other position. That has contributed to the prevention of legislation privatizing education for religious schools.

The Supreme Court

The evidence of theocracy is many-fold. The most dangerous issue is the United States Supreme Court appointments, and Supreme Court decisions. Both the Reagan and Bush administrations have made opposition to abortion a litmus test for their appointments to the Supreme Court. The main pressure for this came from the two groups, fundamentalist Protestants and the Roman Catholic bishops, that I have mentioned.

It was a surprise to some of the religious groups that a whole series of Supreme Court cases involving the rights of Jews, Muslims, the Native American Church and other minorities were decided in a way to nullify or erode the first amendment's free exercise clause. The climax of the discrimination came in the peyote case, Oregon vs. Smith, where two Native American drug counselors were fired because they participated in the sacrament of peyote in their church. (Peyote is not a dangerous drug in the sense that anybody in this room or any of the drug people outside are going to use it, because it's so bitter that you have to do it as a sacrament to be able to endure it.)

Justice Scalia, writing for a 6-3 majority, departed from decades of settled free exercise cases and said that facially-neutral laws or regulations that restrict religious conduct (such as drugs, for example) need not be justified by a compelling state interest. In other words, though no harm could be shown to the government or to society in general, they nullified the free exercise clause. Then he went on to say that this would have to be handled legislatively.

What this means is that any state which has a drug law which includes peyote could invade a Native American Church worship service, disrupt it, scatter the people, confiscate the sacramental material and so on. The precedent there means that it could do that with any other church if it wanted to.

The second thing is that when Scalia said that this is to be left to legislatures, it means that any minority church might have to fight for its very existence in city councils, in state legislatures, or in administrative regulation bodies, at an enormous cost which most minority groups can not afford.

The Supreme Court is in effect scuttling the whole concept of free exercise of religion. Recognizing this problem, a group representing various churches met in Washington. They agreed to introduce what is known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would nullify that Supreme Court decision. They had Catholic and Protestant and Jewish co-sponsors in the House and the Senate. Then, after everything was set and the bill was introduced and they were going to move ahead with it, the Catholic bishops intervened.

Although there were Catholics represented in that coalition, the Catholic bishops intervened to say that they would not permit this to be passed unless it included the following: first, no one could challenge any law that restricted access to abortion services or funding, even if the women's religious convictions required them to procure an abortion; second, no one could challenge an organization's tax-exempt status; and third, no one could challenge the use of government funds or property derived from or obtained with tax revenue. (The Roman Catholic parochial schools get an enormous amount of money from the federal government and from state governments.) So this has stalled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Republican Party Platform on Abortion

The administration and the Supreme Court are not the only manifestations of right-wing ideology and pressure. Back in 1988, a New York Times editorial said of the 1988 Republican Party platform that when "given a choice between saving the fetus or the mother, the mother must die."

Here's what happened: A woman named Marjorie Bell Chambers, a platform committee woman from New Mexico, moved to amend the proposed platform language "that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which can not be infringed." Her amendment called for dropping the last four words, "can not be infringed," because she said that that meant that men and fetuses have a right to life at all times, but women lose that right when they become pregnant. Those opposing Ms. Chambers' amendment unequivocably argued that a fetus took precedence over a woman's life, and the platform committee defeated her amendment 55-33, with eleven abstentions.

This is precisely what happened at the recent party convention. There was an effort made to change those words, and by a substantial majority the platform committee kept it in the platform. Bush, although he tried to proclaim himself a moderate on the Issue, as did Dan Quayle (when asked If their children would have abortions), insisted that it not be changed. There was no opposition permitted In the Republican convention.

The religious forces that take these positions are entitled to take these positions, just as we are entitled to take a position to the contrary. But what they are doing is saying that the laws of the state must reflect their religious doctrine. Cardinal O'Connor, in the speech in Indiana to which I referred earlier, said that it is un-American for Catholic politicians not to impose the Catholic church's morality on the American people.

The Marriage of Church & State

The struggle for sectarian church control of the government began in the early 1970s with the launching of the anti-abortlon crusade, the campaign by the Catholic bishops. Protestant fundamentalist leaders baslcally had no positlon at that time. There was a group of right-wing Cathollcs, mostly young people, who fanned out across the South. Some of them met with Falwell and some met with other leaders.

One of them, a man named Richard Viguerie, ended up being the fundraiser for both Pat Robertson and for Jerry Falwell. He got all of the mailing lists for these people. Over time, Protestants have come to accept the various doctrines that carne out of the Catholic hierarchy.

Sixteen Catholic bishops met with President Carter before he was elected and suggested that he would get a modicum of Catholic voting support if he would agree to curtail family planning programs under his administration. He agreed. He appointed Joseph Callfano, a Roman Catholic, as Secretary of Health, Educatlon and Welfare. In 1978, after the Food and Drug Administration informed the Upjohn Company that lts new, safe and effective contraceptlve Depo-Provera was "approvable for marketing," Joseph Callfano dlrected the Food and Drug Administration to wlthdraw approval. That disapproval has endured to this day, even though It has been approved for marketing In more than 90 other countries.

The second agency to come under religious control was the United States Agency for International Development, known as A.I.D. This was responsible on a world basis for U.S.-funded family planning programs. John J. Gilligan, a Notre Dame graduate, became the A.I.D. head. Before too long the director of the Office of Population Control, an M.D. named R.T. Ravenholt, who had built the world's foremost family planning program, was dismissed after 14 years of service.

According to Dr. Ravenholt, "During the Regan era, many millions of dollars were lavished upon 'natural family planning methods' (that's the official Roman Catholic authorized method) and diverted from the funding of contraceptives to the world's poor."

The Bottom line

Theocracy is church control over government. We have a good illustration of this on the island of Guam. There all but one member of the leglslature is a Roman Catholic. There was a very strong bill introduced that would crimlnalize abortlon, putting women and physlclans In jall if they violated the law. When this was before the legislature, the archbishop announced that anyone who voted against this would be excommunicated.

There are religious groups in the United States that are prepared to adopt laws criminalizing abortion. That means advocating, in the bishops' terms, that they turn over Catholic women who won't follow church teaching to the criminal law of the state - to be punished for violating what is basically church doctrine.

It means that the church has failed In its efforts at spiritual transformation of its people and now is relying on the state. In doing so, they would be turning women over to the criminal law of the state with its racism, its sexism, its classism, its vindictiveness and violence, hoping to accomplish thereby a change of heart on the part of the women and physicians who are being prosecuted.


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