The Republicans do it. Does that mean the Democrats should too? The New York Times reports on Mara Vanderslice and her consulting firm Common Good which advise Democrats on appealing to religious voters. Some liberal people of faith are concerned about some of her advice:
But Ms. Vanderslice’s efforts to integrate faith into Democratic campaigns troubles some liberals, who accuse her of mimicking the Christian right.
Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said her encouragement of such overt religiosity raised “red flags” about the traditional separation of church and state.
“I don’t want any politician prostituting the sanctity of religion,” Mr. Gaddy said, adding that nonbelievers also “have a right to feel they are represented at the highest levels of government.”
Vanderslice’s reply is not reassuring:
To Ms. Vanderslice, that attitude is her party’s problem. In an interview, she said she told candidates not to use the phrase “separation of church and state,” which does not appear in the Constitution’s clauses forbidding the establishment or protecting the exercise of religion.
“That language says to people that you don’t want there to be a role for religion in our public life,” Ms. Vanderslice said. “But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate.”
Wrong message. The concept of separation of church and state is a fundamental principle upon which this nation was founded. In the past it was various religious groups which defended the need for separation of church and state as the best way to guarantee that they, along with everyone else, would have the right to practice (or not practice) religion as they preferred. This is the lesson Democrats must stress. No More Mister Nice Blog points this out by quoting John Kennedy campaigning in September 1960:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim–but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Other liberal bloggers agree. Brilliant at Breakfast warns against selling out:
I don’t have a problem with reaching out to religious voters, nor do I have a problem with the idea that so-called Christian values ought to extend beyond hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage. My problem is that this misguided effort by Democrats can only have one result if such outreach is to succeed — complete capitulation to the “Christian nation” beliefs of such voters. It’s not that we secular Democrats are intolerant of Christians. Our reticence about such outreach is based in the fact that prosletyzing and conversion, often forced conversion, are so much a part of Christian heritage, and are still at the heart of evangelical Christianity today.
No one, not even the most ardent secularists, is telling Christians that they can’t worship at the church of their choice. No one is telling them that they can’t believe abortion is a sin, or that homosexuality is an abomination. I think they’re wrong, but unlike Christians, I’m not forcing anyone to believe anything. But their right to believe stops at the bodies of women other than their own, and at the door of the homes of gay couples. That they think abortion is a sin does not give them the right to make that decision for someone else; and that they think homosexuality is an abomination that they don’t want to have to look at does not give them the right to have their delicate sensibilities codified into law.