US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The wrong way to separate church and state

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The Chicago Sun-Times' columnist Carol Marin, usually a thoughtful journalist, shows a shocking lack of sophistication in her two columns about the Catholic bishops and the abortion facet of the health care debate (Obama can't let bishops set U.S. policy and Bishops holding health-care bill hostage).  She even drags out the tired charge that bishops are "violating the separation of church and state." 

Apparently in her view bishops (and presumably other religious leaders) can believe in certain principles but ought not exert any influence to see their convictions applied to actual legislation. Should this apply to immigration reform as well? What about the struggle for civil rights legislation? Back in 1964 Senator Hubert Humphrey said churches were "the most important forces at work" in passing the Civil Rights Act, and Senator Richard Russell, who opposed civil rights, observed that "men of the cloth" were applying a "philosophy of coercion" akin to the Inquisition (here's the source for those quotes). During the debate, priests, ministers, and rabbis packed the House and Senate galleries as watchdogs.  Were they "violating the separation of church and state"?

Ms. Marin's friend Msgr. Jack Egan would be the first to acknowledge that although Catholics need not be single-issue voters, we ought to see laws passed to safeguard the vulnerable. That's why before his death he fought to get payday loan operations outlawed--a churchman seeking a legal remedy. Just like the bishops on abortion.

You don't have to be a single-issue voter to believe that taxpayers' money should not be used for abortions. And even if you disagree with bishops who question the Catholicism of prochoice politicians (as I do), you can still support the bishops' effort to keep abortion funding out of the health care bill.