This past weekend, Presidential-hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton spoke emphatically about the need to improve women’s welfare. She cited a decrease in maternal mortality rates as progress, but said there was still much work to do to ensure safe births and “reproductive health care”, which—for Clinton—most definitely includes unlimited access to abortion.
Now here is where a number of conservative commenters have rightly pricked up their ears about threats to religious liberty. Clinton went on to say that laws concerning these issues must be enforced and “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed” (emphasis mine). In other words, if you are pro-life, you are wrong and the law is right. Based on recent restrictions on religious liberty, it is easy to see how her stance could result in even further attacks on conscience protection.
Yet, even beyond the right to religious freedom, there is another disturbing line of thought here with regard to life or death issues such as abortion. Clinton seems to believe (and presumably her many supporters do as well) that religion is something that can be changed by persuasion, argument or possibly even force or other coercive tactics. This displays a fundamental lack of understanding about religion—particularly regarding faiths like Catholicism that hold to a body of teachings derived from Christ Himself, Scripture, and Tradition (with a capital “T”).
She is missing a basic distinction between a tenet of a religion and a political opinion. The power of government, ideally, is derived from the “consent of the governed.” In other words, governments are man-made institutions and laws that are decided upon for what is perceived as the common good. These laws may or may not be based upon natural law or even some moral and ethical beliefs, but ultimately they are mutable because they are created by fallible human beings.
Individual people can, of course, change what religious tenets they believe to be true. People do it all the time. And, to be fair, there are also some denominations that have changed their beliefs collectively. The most recent example can be found in the number of Protestant churches that have come out (pun intended) in favor of redefining marriage.
But here’s the thing: the Catholic faith will not change her teaching on issues such as life, marriage, etc. This is not just because she won’t, it’s because she can’t. We affirm the teachings of the Church to be true, but even if every member of the Church rejected her teachings, these teachings would not cease to be true. Even the Pope, who has power to teach infallibly, can only do so in line with the existing doctrine of the Church. These teachings, of course, proclaim the dignity and value of every human person from the moment he or she is conceived.
When Clinton or others attempt to persuade people to abandon their religious beliefs, they are wading into dangerous territory. A political leader’s job is to serve the public by representing the views of those who elected them. By attempting to change people’s religious beliefs, they are setting themselves up as deities or, at the very least, as prophets.
What qualifications does Senator Clinton have to tell us that a mother’s “need” to have her child aborted trumps the child’s right to live? What authority does she have to dictate that life itself is not a reality worth protecting? In a culture dominated by mass media, it can be easy to perceive politicians as larger-than-life figures. It can be easy to forget that, just like us, these men and women politicians have their own area of expertise. They are not all-knowing or all-powerful—we, thankfully, can leave those job requirements to God.
Hilary Clinton may be running for president, but she shouldn’t run as a faux religious leader. True separation of Church and State preserves our right to adhere to our belief system—let’s continue to stand up for our right to protect that freedom.