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I've been wrestling with whether or not to broach the subject of this column for a few days now. Because of the delicate nature of this topic, I do feel the need to preface my comments with an assurance that my intent is only to open some thoughtful consideration. Regardless the nature of topics or ideas I put forth here at Fabulously 40, it is never my intent to offend, promote a specific faith or philosophy, or pass judgment on another's heartfelt beliefs. That being said, there are times when we must evaluate if our personal beliefs in matters of faith should impact the politics and policies that affect all citizens, some of who may feel their own faith is being infringed upon.

For eons, empires were governed by various forms of Theocratic rule which resulted in persecution, even annihilation, for any group or sect practicing a religious philosophy other than what was deemed appropriate by the state. The right to worship was relegated to underground activities or states of mind that could never be expressed without fear of reproach up to and including death. In some areas of the world, these archaic practices continue to this day.  

America has, since its inception, been rather unique in its guarantees of certain inalienable rights and freedoms. Topping the list, and often suggested as being the main driving force of its original settlers, was the fervent desire to worship as one saw fit without fear of persecution or retribution, to be guaranteed the Freedom of Religion. So paramount was this tenet to the fledgling nation, that the founding fathers of The United States Constitution insured it by guaranteeing separation of church and state in the ruling document.  

So, are we applying and practicing this assurance with the full impact intended in the Constitution in our politics today? Is the Freedom of Religion such a broad concept that its very definition is vague and must be clarified? What issues lie outside of religion or the right to a personal faith belief between an individual and their Creator? Or even the right to reject any faith at all? Can morality be legislated as separate from faith? Can amendments and exceptions be employed without tarnishing the very basics of the whole idea?

Throughout the course of the current campaign, we've heard almost continual analysis of the import of certain pledges to support, or what must be adjusted or refined, so as not to lose a block of voters. This seems more crucial than stressing the urgent priorities and proposing the most beneficial policies for the nation as a whole. This would be somewhat understandable to me when addressing environmental and energy concerns, national security, education and healthcare. In many instances, the spirit of debate and compromise, placing partisan politics on a shelf somewhere and concentrating on the needs of the nation as a whole is not only preferred, but imperative for our survival. Then, yes, each block of voters should be addressed and heard on those issues. In areas such as these, ALL Americans are affected by the policies pursued and adopted. The only impingements on personal freedom in issues of this nature would stem from partisan politics and corporate or private self-interests.

Is this the case, however, when a candidate can either win or lose based on one’s personal tenets of faith? Should principles that are subject to a moral or faith-based interpretation even be addressed in ammendments to the Constitution or National Policy? Should a powerful religious organization, or its various denominations, wield the power to determine a policy for all? Are these questions of morality and personal choice of sufficient significance to determining who holds the presidency? Should a candidate, any candidate, who possibly has great leadership potential, intelligence, or vision in most areas of national concern be forced into a situation of refining those passions based on the faith premises of a powerful organization of Evangelicals, or Catholics, or Jews, or Muslims? Or pagans, agnostics or atheists, for that matter?  

As one who is totally uncomfortable with labels and stereotypes, I believe I shouldn't have to express personal feelings as to my beliefs on the issues of my personal faith in order to support or work for preserving the environment, obliterating poverty, or social injustice. I shouldn't have to state the specifics of the instant I believe life begins, or the right to life, or death, as long as I honor that faith myself. And, I should definitely not be allowed the right to make that determination for another. Nor, in my opinion, should these types of issues EVEN be addressed in the form of an amendment to the United States Constitution or a platform in a politcal campaign.  

I watched with interest, the public 'conversation' afforded both presidential candidates last Saturday by Pastor Rick Warren. I do give Pastor Warren immense credit for encouraging and allowing the open format on delicate issues. I also give due credit to both candidates for agreeing to take part. I was, however, taken aback by some of the questions and the ensuing rhetoric on the impact the answers would probably have on the voting choices of the Evangelical audience. I wasn't satisfied by the answer of EITHER participant, although admittedly, I'm probably in a small minority.

First, I resented the question regarding "When does life begin?" even being asked. I resented the vague and almost non-committal response of Senator Obama. It was, to me, the classic example of beating around a bush (no pun intended) rather than a firm, confident response. I would have much preferred he'd simply stated, emphatically, that it was not his judgment to make, not a rambling dissertation ending with a remark about that determination being above his 'pay grade'. I equally resented the adamancy and aggressive tone of Senator McCain in expressing the absolute answer to what is an unknowable certainty. The last I looked, no human being, or church, has been awarded the physical possession of the Divine Mind; although some might argue that fact. At best, it's subjective and does require faith in teachings, or a simple trust in a larger scheme of things. To me, both candidates were pandering to a group of voters at the expense of what might just be the most relevant moral fiber of all, their own integrity. The sad thing is, that they feel the need to do so.

By all means, a just and worthy nation must have moral backbone. A government should consider the value of all life when legislating laws or implementing policies in national security and environmental preservation. Of course, there should be laws against murder and mayhem and consequences for breaking them. There should be basic guidelines for social justice and equality. But to elect, or not elect, a candidate for the office of president based strictly on a matter of his beliefs or faith is asking for trouble. There are simply areas that would best be left in the realm of the participants, their church, their family, their doctors, and The Powers That Be. Or not! The issues of Roe vs Wade, pro-life, pro-choice, planned parenthood, access to decent healthcare, viable support and alternatives in making those choices, falls in that realm, in my opinion. It was obviously the opinion of the founding fathers, as well, when mandating separation of church and state.

Susan Haley, Author


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