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Church & State Too Close For Comfort

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Dr. Swomley is secretan) of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union and is the chair of its churchstate 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 deflned as control of government by a church or religious organlzation claiming divine authorIty. It can also be polltlcal power exerclsed by rellgious authorlty 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 thlnk thafs important, because some of the right-wlng Christian organizations think that we should return to the days when Christianity was "the religión." One of the things that happened in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was that they expelled people, Hke Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, who were dissidents. They had a constable watching over every ten families and their moráis, and when the jails were fllled 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 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 prevalí in every area of life. Prisons could virtually be closed if many crimináis were executed for their crimes. Offenses requiring the death penalty would lnclude abortion, adultery, unrepentant homosexuality and so on. Like the Roman Cathollc bishops, they are preoccupied wlth sexual matters. They indícate that schools should be run by churches and that husbands should be the heads of the households, with women and children subservlent. This Coalition on Revival is not a group to be ignored. lts steering commlttee is composed of 112 people, all of (see CHURCH & STATE, page 4) I front page one whom are rlght-wlng rellglous organlzatlon leaders, who represent milllons of bornagaln Chrlstlans. Coalltlon members sign a covenant, wlth God and with each other, in which theyVe agreed to work toward ChrisUanlzlng the United States. What they mean by "Christianizing" is their particular versión of it. They are at work locally to take control over school boards, city counclls, county and state leglslatures and other local agencies, because this is where they believe the action is and where they can make thelr 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 leglslatures. 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 religlous lines." The demagogues they listed were Patrick Buchanan and Pat Robertson. The Times editorial went on to say : There's little quesüon that the religtous 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 1988presidentialcampalgnand is dedicated to promoting its version of Christian doctrine in politics. It claims 550 chapters in 50 states and 250,000 members, compared wlth 1 00,000 ayearago.Coalitlon spokesmen say that 300 of the 2210 delegates were members. In addition, coalition members may have accounted for as much as athlrd 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 vtrtually 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 applaudingflag-wavingcrowd 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 seige. 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 homsexuals, It's anti-rights for women, ifs 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 privatlzation of education in the United States. It believes in censoring films and art objects that they consider obscene, or that criticizes their particular religión. It resists the right of personal and marital privacy. The whole concept of divorce is called into question. The Antl-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 regeneratlon or reform, as lts phrase "prolife" implles. 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 prevalí in the United States on the issue of abortion, its moral authority on other theologlcal 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 Ufe, then questioning of the Trinity becomes child's play, as does questioning of the divinlty 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 abortlon, "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 abortlon position. I thought theyjolned it for the spiritual value they got out of it, or because of the liturgical way In whlch the church operates, or for other reasons. But here, for the firsttime, you getaprince 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 prevalí on this or its authority would be eroded, what he's talkingaboutis power. Not morallty. One of the things that all of us ought to keep In mlnd is that the posltlon 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 ís 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 exlsts 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 siblingembryos 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 thingcould not happen. The embryos would recognize themselves to be different and would not unite. But here the cells seem unaware of any dlstinction tween themselves. The only explanatlon Is that the Individual is not fixed or determined at thls stage." He also wrote "the fertilized egg is clearly not a pre-packaged human being. Our genes give us a propensity for certaln 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 fertilizatlon, 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 statistlcally consistent with the way that we opérate, in that we do not count human beings from the moment of conception, but only after blrth. The United States Catholic bishops in their "Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Actlvities," issued in 1975, say that "the church has a unique responsibility to transmit the teaching of Christ and to provide moral principies consistent with that teaching." There is nothing anywhere in the Bible that opposes abortion, or that speaks about the moment of conception or the sanctitiy of life. IVe 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 privatizating education forreligious 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. Last April, Cardinal O'Connor called abortion "the numberone challenge for the church in the United States." It was a surprise to some of the rellgious groups that a whole series of Supreme Court cases involving the rtghts of Jews, Musllms, the Natlve American Church and other mlnorlties were decided In a way to nullify or erode the first amendmenfs free exercise clause. The climax of the discriminatlon carne In the peyote case, Oregon vs. Smith, where two Native American drug counselors were ñred 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 ifs 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 sald 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 lncludes peyote could invade a Natlve American Church worship service, disrupt it, scatter the people, confíscate 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 sald that this is to be left to legislatures, it means that any minority church mlght have to flght for its very existence in city councils, in state legislatures, or in adminlstrative 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 religión. 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 decisión. 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 govemments.) 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 1 988, a New York Times editorial sald of the 1988 Republican Party platform that when "given a choice between saving the fetus or the mother, the mother must díe." Here's what happened: A woman named Marjorie Bell Chambers, a platform committee woman from New Mexico, movei to amend the proposed platform language "that the unbom 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 thatmen and fetuses have a right to life at all times, but women lose that right when they become pregnant. Those opposing Ms. Chambers' amendment unequlvocably 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 substantlal majority the platform committee kept it in the platform. Bush, although he tried to proclaim hlmself a moderate on the Issue, as did Dan Quayle (when asked If their children would have abortlons), insisted that it not be changed. There was no opposltion permltted In the Republlcan convention. The religlous forces that take these posltlons are entltled to take these posiüons, just as we are entltled to take a posltlon to the contrary. But what they are dolng Is saylng that the laws of the state must reflect thelr religlous doctrine. Cardinal O'Connor, in the speech In Indiana to whlch 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 launchlng of the antl-abortlon crusade, the campalgn 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 fundralser 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 hlerarchy. Slxteen Catholic bishops met with President Carter before he was elected and suggested that he would get a modlcum of Catholic votlng support if he would agree to curtail famlly planning programs under hls administratlon. 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 thls day, even though It has been approved for marketing In more than 90 other countries. The second agency to come under religlous 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 gradúate, 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 dlsmlssed after 14years of service. Accordlng to Dr. Ravenholt, "During the Regan era, many millions of dollars were lavlshed upon 'natural family planning methods' (that's the official Roman Catholic authorlzed method) and diverted from the funding of contraceptlves to the world's poor." The Bottom line Theocracy is church control over government. We have a good illustratlon 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 vlolated the law. When thls was before the leglslature, the archbishop announced that anyone who voted against thls would be excommunlcated. There are religious groups in the United States that are prepared to adopt laws criminallzlng 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 punlshed for vlolating what is baslcally church doctrine. It means that the church has failed In its efforts at spiritual transforma tion of its people and now is relylng on the state. In dolng so, they would be turning women over to the criminal law of the state with lts racism, its sexlsm, lts classlsm, its vindictlveness and vlclence, hoping to accomplish thereby a change of heart on the part of the women and physicians who are belng prosecuted.


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