Faith always a factor in policy making

Wednesday’s final debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry was interesting in that both candidates were asked about their faiths and how they played a part in their public policy decisions.

Bush answered, “I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourselves.” Of course, it’s no secret that President Bush puts his faith into his policy when he does things like oppose homosexual marriage and abortion; for both, he is often derided by the left in the name of the supposed “separation of church and state” in the Constitution.

But also notice how Kerry, too, justifies his policy goals by invoking religious principles. In the debate, Kerry said, “I was taught … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” He also said, “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.” He noted that this is why he supports fighting poverty, cleaning up the environment, and fighting for equality and justice. He added, “All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.”

This doesn’t seem to coincide with the statement he made earlier that night about abortion when he said, “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.”

The logical question is why issues so important to Catholicism (Kerry’s faith), such as abortion, are not okay to legislate but other issues are. I could write this off as just another flip-flop by the senator, but it’s more than that. It represents the selective enforcement of the separation of church and state argument that is all too common among liberals.

Another example is liberal commentator Bill Press, who just last month wrote a column titled “How would Jesus vote?” chastising those who justify conservative policies by invoking religious principles. But, in the same column, Press wrote, “Read the Gospels. Jesus was certainly no conservative. He was as liberal as Paul Wellstone.”

These cases signal a trend among those on the left who are quick to oppose conservatives who make policies based on their religious beliefs, but, at the same time, use religion to justify their own liberal policies.

In my last column, I also weighed in by writing about ending government licensing of marriage because I believe the government shouldn’t be involved in promoting religious doctrine. As a result, I received an email from one reader suggesting, perhaps hopefully, that I was actually a liberal at heart, which made me laugh. I noted that my position is that government’s job is to protect people from other people and not from themselves.

Using the same justification, I oppose government redistribution of wealth, which is often justified by liberals like Kerry on the grounds that it is a moral duty. I also oppose abortion because I believe that it entails one human life being destroyed by another. Notice how these positions are argued on my part not based on a particular religious doctrine, but rather a belief in an individual’s rights to life and property. In both cases, that would classify me more accurately as a libertarian rather than a conservative or a liberal, but that’s another column in itself.

The point is this: both conservatives and liberals often justify their own public policy goals by invoking religious principles. In the end, both sides believe they have a right to impose their religious beliefs; they just differ on what beliefs are worth imposing.

Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science