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Posts from January 2005

The Founders really did intend for there to be a wall of separation between Church and State

Few groups of people in America today produce as much mythistorical bunk as the Religious Right, and few people are victimized by their distortions than the so-called Founding Fathers. In order to manufacture the unitary conservative Christian heritage for America that they pin their nationalist mythistory on, Christian fundamentalists routinely repeat cherry-picked quotes or outright fabrications in order to distort the religious views of the Founders. Another favorite target is the notion of separation between Church and State: the Religious Right has spent the past few decades trying to manufacture a historical-legal account on which (1) when the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they did not intend for it to enact anything like what we now call separation between Church and State, and (2) that this notion, completely alien to the Constitution, was invented by activist judges. Here, for example, is a typical presentation of the doctrine, by Stephen Erwin in The Rule of Law (2004-01-12):

Judge Moore held in his Eleventh Circuit Court appeal that the First Amendment bans any law respecting (regarding) an establishment of religion. The judge correctly points out that because of its no law language, the First Amendment proscribes only laws and his monument was not a law. The Eleventh Circuit totally failed to provide a reasonable explanation of how or why his position was wrong. Their only answer was to say that precedent (state decisis) requires separation of church and state and to express horror that if we adopted his position, the Chief Justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court’s courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench. Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises. A crèche could occupy the place of honor in the lobby or rotunda of every municipal, county, state, and federal building.

These judges have completely forgotten that an independent and impartial judge is bound to interpret the law and let the legislature correct any problems that may result from a fair interpretation of that law. Political correctness is simply not within the official purview of our courts.

The separation of church and state is a concept that is not found anywhere in the Constitution. It is just one of many red t-shirts invented by our courts. And as long as we allow our imperial judiciary to ban red t-shirts there will be no legitimate rule of law.

Now, let’s set aside for a moment the non sequitur involved in the argument that the actions of a government employee funded by legislatively-appropriated tax dollars somehow sidestep the First Amendment’s concern with the laws passed by the legislature. There’s an argument to be had about the specifics of Roy Moore’s case, but that’s an argument I’ve already had elsewhere. What I want to focus on here is the historical-legal story underlying its application to the specific case; and for a Religious Rightist wanting to push some theocratic public display or another, it is a handy little historical-legal story indeed. For one, it allows the Rightist to construct a poignant tale of historical decline from our lofty origins. For two, it lets the myth-makers get into their favorite pose as myth-busters; many people do seem to be under the mistaken impression that the phrase separation between Church and State appears in the First Amendment, and the Religious Rightist can point out that it doesn’t. Finally, it their Constitutional prooftexting allows them to ascribe the last few decades of First Amendment case law entirely to the malign influence of Activist Judges, the most devious fiends in the Religious Right demonology. The problem is that the story is false on several points and deceptively selective on others.

Now, Erwin and other conservative Christians are right to point out that separation between Church and State is a phrase that does not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, and never has. This is what the First Amendment actually says:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What exactly mak[ing] no law respecting an establishment of religion means might not be entirely clear at first glance. One way to cash it out would be separation between Church and State. But that’s not necessarily the only possible interpretation of the text, and the Religious Rightist is right to want to know where this principle was introduced from, if judges are going to go around using it in their legal reasoning. But the problem is that, contrary to the claims of Erwin and other conservative Christians, the principle does not originate from some activist judge toiling to undo our national piety in the middle of the 20th century. The phrase comes from no less an authority on the founding documents than Thomas Jefferson, who explicitly offered it as his understanding of the First Amendment’s provisions in a letter to Danbury Baptist Church in 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

–Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1 January 1802

(As a historical side-note, Jefferson’s letter was meant to reassure the Danbury Baptists that the Federal government had no power to regulate religious expression; the Baptists in America during the Founding generation were among the leading crusaders for complete separation of Church and State. Oh how things change in this fallen world!)

Of course, it’s true that Jefferson was not the author of the First Amendment. That’s true; but he did coin the phrase specifically to explain what he understood the First Amendment to mean. And it would be hard to say that Jefferson was not in at least as good, or better, of a position to know what the people who did write the First Amendment (including friends and colleagues such as James Madison) meant by it than Stephen Erwin, ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore, and others who decry the separation doctrine are. Furthermore, Jefferson was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which the establishment clause and the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment were derived from. Whatever the merits or demerits of judicial activism may be, the wall of separation is not an example of it; it is a gloss of the First Amendment first introduced by one of the most prominent of the Founders, who was in a very good position to claim some authority on what the proper meaning of the First Amendment was.

Now there’s a second line of attack that some Religious Rightists have pushed (Alan Keyes, in particular), with a bit more justice: some have pointed out that the First Amendment explicitly restricts only Congress (meaning the Congress of the United States); and that even if the First Amendment did impose a wall of separation between Church and State in the federal government, it was not understood, by Jefferson or anyone else at the time, to have anything to say about how state governments could conduct their affairs. Yet most of the modern applications of the separation doctrine are rulings on state governments–e.g. on state laws requiring prayer in government schools or on the actions of state judges such as ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore. So how does the modern legal doctrine of separation relate at all to what Jefferson meant by the phrase?

Now let’s be straight: the fundamentalists are right that when the First Amendment was written, it was understood to constrain only the federal government. State governments were widely understood to have the right to establish churches and pass laws restricting the free exercise of religion. (Congregationalist Massachussetts, for example, had an established church from the adoption of the Constitution up to 1833.) But so what? For one, the much-lamented activist judges do not, and very obviously do not, enforce the separation doctrine on the states on the basis of the First Amendment alone. The legal reasoning behind decisions such as Engel v. Vitale was based on the First Amendment together with the Fourteenth Amendment, which says (among other things):

Amendment XIV

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

One plausible reading of the emphasized portion is that the Fourteenth Amendment extends the protections granted to citizens of the United States in the Bill of Rights to include protection from violations by state as well as the federal government. Maybe that reading of the Fourteenth Amendment is inaccurate; but if the Religious Right wants to make that claim they are going to have to give some substantive argument against it, rather than deceptively pointing to the text of the First Amendment, as if that were the only part of the Constitution in question.

In any case, whether the incorporation doctrine is a good reading of the Fourteenth Amendment or not, there is another point on which the Religious Rightists’ arguments here are deceptive. It’s true that Jefferson and his compatriots only understood the First Amendment to constrain the federal government. But the package-dealed suggestion that they didn’t have any problem with state-level breaches of the wall of separation is plainly false. Jefferson may have believed that the First Amendment only imposed a wall of separation between the church and the federal government, but that does not mean that he didn’t think that the same separation shouldn’t be effected elsewhere. Jefferson, for example, drafted the state law that disestablished the Anglican Church in Virginia and James Madison ensured that it would be passed by the state legislature. Several other states also disestablished their churches around the time of the Revolution; even the late hold-outs such as Massachussetts eventually concluded that separation was a doctrine whose time had come, and had eliminated the last vestiges of established churches in America by the early 19th century. Jefferson did not think that the wall of separation between Church and State was a merely legal principle; he and many of his fellow Founders thought it was a moral principle that ought to apply to every level of government whatever, and they actively campaigned to get it so applied. As he eloquently put it in the Virginia Statute:

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry;

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

Amen, brother.

The separation between Church and State was not a bit of judicial hokum cooked up in the head of some activist judge somewhere around 1962. The Founders really did intend for there to be a wall of separation between Church and State, and they did what they could to put the masonry up. Jefferson was wrong about many things in his life, but he was right about this.

Hello, Birmingham

Seven years ago today, on 29 January 1998, an anti-personnel bomb studded with nails exploded at the New Woman All Women health clinic in Birmingham. The clinic was targeted for bombing because it provided abortions; a nurse named Emily Lyons was maimed in the explosion and Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer working for the clinic as a security guard, was killed. An anti-abortion fanatic claiming to be a member of the Army of God sent anonymous letters to the media taking credit for the bombing; the murderer was probably Eric Robert Rudolph, also suspected in the bombing of an abortion clinic, a lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Rudolph was finally captured in May 2003, and he is now standing trial for murder in Birmingham, and awaits trial in Georgia for the Atlanta bombings. I think that at this point there is every reason to believe that he’s guilty as hell, and also that he will be convicted of cold-blooded murder and justice will be done. Of course justice will not bring Robert Sanderson back and it will not heal Emily Lyons’ wounds. But it is something to hope for, even if any victory in this case will be one gained with terrible sadness.

This seems, actually, to be a point that unites nearly everyone. Both pro-choicers and most anti-abortionists have condemned Rudolph as a dangerous fanatic, a murderer, and a terrorist; both pro-choice and pro-life organizations issued public statements celebrating Rudolph’s capture. Now, I don’t want to spoil this remarkable point of unity against violence. But the simple truth is that I don’t know how it can be supported. I understand why I am glad that Rudolph is finally facing murder charges, and why my fellow pro-choicers and I condemn him as a murderer. But I don’t see how most of the anti-abortion movement’s reaction to Rudolph could result from anything other than a profound distortion of their beliefs. Let me explain.

Most people who oppose abortion–at least, most of those who express their opposition as part of the organized and agitating anti-abortion movement–claim to believe that, as a matter of moral principle, abortion under almost all circumstances is murder. They tell us that that is why they oppose it: that the intentional killing of an embryo or a fetus is a violation of the rights of that embryo or fetus just as much as infanticide is a violation of the rights of the baby.

Now, I think that this claim is outrageously false, and that the arguments for it use profoundly misogynist premises in order to justify the most brutal sorts of State violence against women. But my beliefs aren’t the issue here. The question is whether pro-lifers actually believe this. Let’s take a quick review of the facts (thanks to the Alan Guttmacher Institute):

  • About 1/2 of all unplanned pregnancies in the United States are terminated in abortion.

  • Every year, about 2 out of every 100 women aged 15-44 has an abortion.

  • In 2000, in the United States alone, about were 1,360,000 abortions performed. About 1,300,000-1,400,000 abortions are performed every single year in the United States; from 1973, when Roe v. Wade decriminalized abortion in all 50 states, to 2000, about 39,000,000 abortions were performed.

For those of us who believe that abortion is a woman’s right, these numbers may or may not be troubling, depending on what they tell us about other issues that we care about (such as the availability of contraception and responsible sex education). But consider what they mean to someone who earnestly believes that almost every single abortion is an act of murder. If you really believe that, and you have even a marginally adequate grasp on how common abortion is, then a fortiori you must believe that well over 1,000,000 people are being murdered every single year while the United States government stands by allowing most of those murders and even protecting the women who have them committed and the doctors who they hire to carry them out.

If you earnestly believe that abortion is murder, in other words, you are committed to believing that you are living through what is probably the worst holocaust in the history of humanity. How should someone witnessing murder on so massive a scale, ignored or even protected by the government and sanctioned by official organs of the medical establishment, react?

If that is what you earnestly believe, then why wouldn’t you react as Eric Rudolph and James Kopp did–by setting out to stop abortion providers, injuring or killing them if necessary? You might say Well, that doesn’t seem pro-life at all! But if someone earnestly believes that abortion is murder, hten why wouldn’t he or she also believe that injuring or even killing an abortion provider in order to stop that murder is a legitimate use of violence in defense of the innocent? Particularly when every single day that passes with an abortion provider healthy and working means that (according to your beliefs) nearly 4,000 more innocent people will be murdered?

Now, I can think of some reasons why someone who earnestly believed abortion to be murder still wouldn’t start attacking abortion providers. The problem is that none of them can account for all the prominent members of the anti-abortion movement, let alone everyone in the anti-abortion rank-and-file. You might, for example, believe that abortion is murder but refuse to use violence to stop it because you’re a principled pacifist, and believe that even violence in defense of self or innocent others is unjustified. Some consistent-ethic-of-life abortion opponents do endorse, or come very close to endorsing, a comprehensive principled pacifism. But most of the anti-abortion movement does not; the Catholic hierarchy mainly supports Just War theory and conservative evangelical abortion opponents such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson loudly trumpet their support for warfare and the death penalty.

You might believe violence in defense of the innocent would be justifiable, if it were an effective means to the end of stopping abortion. But–you might say–it isn’t: it just brings both the cops and public opinion down on the side of the abortionists, and hurts the movement to end abortion through orderly political means. But whether or not this is an accurate assessment of the strategic effects of anti-abortion violence–and I’m not sure that it is–it is not the reason that most pro-lifers who came out against Rudolph’s bombing campaign or Kopp’s murder-by-sniping gave for condemning them. It’s true that many pro-lifers said that they thought actions like these hurt the cause; but besides that, most of them also repeatedly made statements that anti-abortion terrorism is not only strategically foolish, but also morally wrong. Most of them seem quite earnestly to believe that folks like Eric Rudolph and James Kopp are murderers and dangerous lunatics.

But look. If you do think that Eric Rudolph is a dangerous lunatic–and I agree you should–then what can you think about someone who believes exactly what Eric Rudolph believes about abortion, and does not have any principled opposition to the use of force to defend the innocent, and yet, unlike Rudolph, sits back comfortably while doing absolutely absolutely nothing about it? Such a person would be a moral monster of the most wretched sort; perhaps less dangerous than Rudolph, but also even more contemptible. Yet this is exactly the condition that a very large segment of the anti-abortion movement seems to confess to every time they state their basic beliefs about abortion and acceptable political strategy.

Now, the point here is not, of course, to exhort anti-abortionists to take up arms and start shooting. My argument is a modus tollens, not a modus ponens. If you earnestly believe that abortion is murder and that violence in defense of the innocent is justifiable, but do nothing, then you are a moral monster. But principles of charity demand that you try to find some other way to understand a person’s actions, if any plausible candidate is available, other than a way that makes them a moral monster. In this case, the answer is: most people in the anti-abortion movement don’t really believe that abortion is murder.

No, they really don’t. They certainly believe that abortion is wrong. And apparently they believe that it’s wrong in a way that justifies State intervention to stop it. But they cannot honestly and consistently regard it as a violation of an innocent person’s rights just as bad as infanticide without being moral monsters even worse than the murderers they claim to deplore. Since I don’t think they are that, I conclude that they don’t honestly and consistently believe it as anything more than a rhetorical flourish.

Here’s some more reasons to think that this is true:

  • Most anti-abortionists are roughly aware of the scale of abortion. And most of them say that it shows something is profoundly wrong with our society. But very few actually give any indication, in their language and in their actions, of genuinely believing that they are witnessing mass slaughter on such an unprecedented scale. Those who do talk this way–drawing comparisons to the Holocaust, for example–are mostly folks like Operation Rescue, Joe Scheidler, and further on out to the Army of God, who are marginalized or condemned as lunatic fringe elements.

  • The fact that most anti-abortionsts do, as I mentioned above, seem to think that when Eric Rudolph bombed New Woman All Women seven years ago he did do something that was not only strategically foolish, but also morally wrong indicates that they are speaking either (1) as principled pacifists or (2) as people who believe that deadly force is not a proportional response to whatever is wrong about abortion. Since (1) clearly doesn’t apply for many, it seems that (2) is what they are best understood as believing. Yet if they believe (2), that just is a good reason to say that they don’t believe that abortion is murder–because if any threatened wrong would permit deadly force as a response, wouldn’t murder be it?

  • Most anti-abortionists, even while claiming that abortion is murder and ought to be illegal for precisely the same reasons that infanticide is, very conspicuously shy away from claiming that the people primarily responsible for these murders–women with unwanted pregnancies who procure an abortion–should be punished like murderers are punished. Some (George H. W. Bush, for example) seem to believe that laws should only punish abortion providers and should not punish women who seek abortions at all; almost nobody other than those who already support violence against abortion providers argues that they should be imprisoned for life or executed. Yet if you honestly and consistently believe that these women are guilty of infanticide, then why would you call for the legal system to treat them at all differently from Susan Smith or Andrea Yates? Answer: most abortion opponents don’t honestly and consistently believe that they are guilty of infanticide; however wrong they may think abortion is, their sense of compassion compels them to treat women who seek abortions less harshly than they would ever treat a child murderer.

If what I have been saying is the case, then abortion opponents are better people than Eric Rudolph in spite of their bloody rhetoric of abortion-as-murder. But that also means that they need to give up the bloody rhetoric and they need to give it up now. It is a distortion of their views; they might regard abortion as cruel or tragic or irresponsible but if what I have been saying is true they do not earnestly and consistently think of it as murder. Worse, it’s a distortion of their views that places demands of them that their own sense of compassion and shame prohibits them from ever fulfilling. Nearly all pro-lifers realize that it would be inhuman to punish women who seek abortions as murderers, and that it is wicked to bomb clinics or shoot doctors. Yet to give reasons for seeing these things as wrong they must logically give up on the claim that abortion is murder. As long as they insist on hurling that rhetorical thunderbolt, they are committing their conscience to a principle that demands precisely the actions of an Eric Rudolph or a James Kopp, and they are giving truth to what Ani DiFranco mournfully sang, in the most heartbreaking and fitting commemoration of this day that I know, after the shooting of Dr. Slepian in Buffalo and the bombing in Birmingham:

and the blood poured off the pulpit
the blood poured down the picket line
yeah, the hatred was immediate
and the vengeance was divine
so they went and stuffed god
down the barrel of a gun
and after him
they stuffed his only son

–Ani DiFranco, Hello Birmingham

Let the hand-wringing begin

Nobody likes to have an abortion, and nobody would like to have one even under the best of conditions. Things are much better now than they were in the dark days of back-alley butchers; and they could be made much better yet if it weren’t for miles of punitive regulations and red tape made with the explicit purpose of making abortions harder for legally vulnerable women to obtain. But even without the cultural bullies and screaming protestors, even without the government-imposed cartel costs and the intense curtailment of options for procedures, your choices would still in the end be between invasive surgery of some form or another or drugs that make you nauseous and bleeding over the course of a few days. Of course abortion is not the horrendous experience that anti-choicers repeatedly make it out to be; it is far safer and quicker and easier on both patient and provider than nearly every other kind of surgery that there is. It’s safer and less psychologically taxing than giving birth. (Somehow these comparisons don’t seem to get made very often by either the anti-choice leadership or their foot soldiers. How strange.) But root canals are very safe and relatively simple too; that doesn’t mean that anyone is excited to have one.

But so what? Nobody goes around talking about the terrible tragedy of root canals either, or about the need to reach across the divide to unite with the anti-root-canal community (I take it that there are some Christian Scientist types who oppose dental surgery out of deeply felt religious conviction) in order to prevent unwanted tooth decay. Nobody feels the need to prefix every remark about their support for the right to get a root canal with a half-hour of qualifications and apologies. Yet the Party Hack wing of the Democratic leadership seems to have decided, yet again, that this is just what they need. Here, for example, is how Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to celebrate the anniversary of one of the greatest political triumphs for women’s liberation in recent history:

In a speech to about 1,000 abortion rights supporters near the New York State Capitol, Mrs. Clinton firmly restated her support for the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. But then she quickly shifted gears, offering warm words to opponents of legalized abortion and praising the influence of “religious and moral values” on delaying teenage girls from becoming sexually active.

There is an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate — we should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be wanted, cherished and loved, Mrs. Clinton said.

Her speech came on the same day as the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington marking the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

Mrs. Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats who support abortion rights. She did so not by changing her political stands, but by underscoring her views in preventing unplanned pregnancies, promoting adoption, recognizing the influence of religion in abstinence and championing what she has long called teenage celibacy.

She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education — including abstinence counseling — family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.

We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women, Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Most of this is true enough, as far as it goes. Nobody wants abortion instead of widesperad contraception and responsible sexual education. Nobody likes to get an abortion. And in the present political and cultural climate, all too many women are made to feel far worse about their decision to have an abortion than should be. Fine. But the latter isn’t an unchangeable given; it’s a political fact that is enforced by a constant and intentional climate of harassment and intimidation. And the fact that we’d rather women were able to avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place is no reason to spend hours hand-wringing over it and apologizing for it unless you already think that there’s something wrong with getting an abortion. But why should you think that?

Actually, there is one other reason that you might do all that hand-wringing. You might be cavilling in spite of your own beliefs because you think that kind of dissembling is politically useful. I hate to say it about Hillary — she gave such a great speech at the March and all — but it’s hard to know what else to conclude about this particular strategy:

Mrs. Clinton’s address came as the Democratic Party itself engages in its own re-examination of its handling of the issue in the wake of Senator John Kerry’s loss in the presidential race.

Democratic senators such as Harry Reid of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California have also pressed for a greater focus on reducing unintended pregnancies, and some Democratic consultants have urged that party leaders mint new language to reach voters who identified moral values as a top issue for them in last November’s election.

Jesus Christ people. Look. No. Just, no.

First, you’re not trying to mint new language. You’re repeating the same crap that you did for the past 12 years. Here, for example, is how Electable John Kerry answered questions on abortion during the second and third debates:

Mr. Schieffer Senator Kerry a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem call research. What is your reaction to that?

Mr. Kerry I respect their views. I completely respect their views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views, but I disagree with them, as do many. I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith. I believe that choice, a woman’s choice is between a woman, God and her doctor. And that’s why I support that. Now I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade. The president has never said whether or not he would do that. But we know from the people he’s tried to appoint to the court he wants to. I will not. I will defend the right of Roe v. Wade.

Now with respect to religion, you know, as I said I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me. And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, I’m not running to be a Catholic president. I’m running to be a president who happens to be Catholic. Now my faith affects everything that I do and choose. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says What does it mean my brother to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead. And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith. But I know this: that President Kennedy in his inaugural address told of us that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own. And that’s what we have to – I think that’s the test of public service.

And before that in the second debate:

DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?

KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.

First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I’m a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.

But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that.

But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.

But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.

Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro-abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don’t deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can’t afford it otherwise.

That’s why I think it’s important. That’s why I think it’s important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.

You’ll help prevent AIDS.

You’ll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.

You’ll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it.

Apparently the apparatchiks have decided that there isn’t enough hand-wringing and pandering to the sensibilities of the Religious Right there. I don’t know how you could add any more hand-wringing and searching for “common ground” with the Christian Right there without the references to a woman’s right to an abortion disappearing entirely, but there you have it.

Guess what? It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Why in the world do they think that it would? Are they trying to win votes from the Christian Right? Do they honestly think that moving the political debate over reproductive freedom back from abortion to the Sanger-era fights over birth control and sex education is going to improve the political climate in this country?

In other words: stop treating the right to abortion like you treat free speech rights for the Klan. If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with abortion then quit hemming and hawing forever about how much you respect the position of people who do and how much you’d like to work with them on birth control. You’re wasting your time: a lot if not most ofthem also hate birth control and sex education anyway. And in the process of wasting your time you are also dissembling about your real motives and spitting on women’s struggle for freedom.

Incidentally, Rox, among the reasons I like Howard Dean as much as I do is that in the heat of an election, this is how he answers a question about abortion:

Diane Rehm: We have seen reports that builders across the country are refusing to participate in the construction of Planned Parenthood buildings. What would you do about the threats to freedom for a woman to choose?

Howard Dean: Well, I think that’s a very dangerous game those builders are playing, especially in the city of Austin, which is where it’s going on. Were I down there I would immediately refuse to do business with any of the contractors who were boycotting that. So all groups can play that game; you have the right-wingers playing the game today, but other groups who may disagree with that can also play that game. And I think that’s a mistake for them to do that.

I am pro-choice. I’m a doctor; I frankly believe that it’s none of the government’s business to interfere in a woman’s making decisions about her own healthcare. And I tend not to be very supportive of efforts to enforce political points of view on individuals’ healthcare, and that’s what’s going on in Austin, Texas.

On the Diane Rehms show, WAMU, 2004-12-01 10:00am (they don’t seem to have a transcript; the question is around 45’45” on the audio version)

Elsewhere he’s also directly, and without apology or cavil, taken on both parental consent restrictions and late-term abortion bans, and pointedly insisted that on the issue of abortion, We can change our vocabulary but I don’t think we ought to change our principles..

Second, even if this were a new tack, and even if there were any reason to believe that it would get anything worth accomplishing accomplished, why would you think that women’s control over their own bodies is an acceptable bargaining chip? Women are not pawns to be sacrificed for better board position. Lots of Democrats bolted the party in the late 1960s to become Republicans because the national leadership would no longer keep silent about Jim Crow and the efforts of efforts such as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party finally broke the Eastland-Wallace white supremacist stranglehold on the Southern state parties. That lost the Democrats a lot of voters. The difference even lost them several elections. So what? Does anyone think that it would be a good idea to endlessly fret about how to reach out across the divide and find common ground to bring the Klan vote back into the party?

To hell with that. If you’re going to get hung up on winning political office, this is not how you should be trying to do it. Falling back on the apparatchiks and electable candidates using electably mealy-mouthed rhetoric doesn’t work and it wouldn’t have gained anything worth winning even if it did. Meanwhile, the other side won’t believe it, your side won’t pull out the stops for you, and the people in the middle won’t know where the hell you actually stand.

If Democrats are looking for new language with which to frame the abortion debate, I’d like to suggest a good old standard: ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY.

Nie Wieder

My Monday posts are, first and foremost, about historical memory. I conceived of them originally as an opportunity to knock knuckle-headed mythistory in a way that would be useful for the web community, because part of bringing our shared history into our living memory is a struggle against forgetting, especially in the form of covering over memory with comfortable falsehoods. Last week, though, I took a bit of a break in order to say some things about Martin Luther King Jr. and a history that most of us do know, even if only through a glass, darkly. This week, too, I’m changing the plan a bit; not to say anything, but to commemorate something that I have nothing to say about, because there are are no words.

This week, January 27, will mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.

photo: Exterior of Auschwitz, today


photo: Barbed wire perimeter fence at Auschwitz

photo: Gate of Auschwitz. Over the top are the words "ARBEIT MACHT FREI"

photo: Hospital block at Auschwitz; the last stage before the gas chambers

photo: Child prisoners behind the barbed wire at Auschwitz

photo: Detail of a lamp over the barbed wire fence at Auschwitz

photo: Memorial sculpture for the dead

KZ Dachau Memorial, 1999-06-23

photo: Memorial plaque, reading NEVER AGAIN - NIE WIEDER

KZ Dachau Memorial, 1999-06-23

The Spitting Image, His Secret Identity Revealed edition

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Internet’s resources for cheap political mockery, and I thought that I had Dick Hordak Cheney all figured out. But the following amazing snapshot, nabbed from Rox’s Write Your Own Caption #79, makes me think I had it all wrong. Yes, it’s hard to avoid the resemblence between ol’ Dick and the ruthless leader of the Evil Horde, but in light of the recent photographic evidence, there is one undeniable question that must be asked:

photo: Dick Cheney smiles photo: Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Warner Brothers' Batman (1989)

Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?

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