(Cross-posted at Pagansquare.com)
Over the past few weeks, I've tried to cover some prominent issues facing the country and demonstrate that Paganism is a large and diverse umbrella of faiths that can and does include people of every ideological and political stripe. There are Pagan conservatives, liberals, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, etc. Paganism does not inherently require one to take a particular side of a wide host of issues; one can be Pagan and be either a feminist or not, be on various points on the environmentalist scale, support or oppose gay marriage, be pro-life or pro-choice, be in favor of intervention in the Syrian civil war or not, support Israel or not, want higher or lower taxes, etc. etc. etc. etc.
Paganism is a big tent, to coin a phrase. There are almost no issues that one can point to across the board and say, “This is a ‘Pagan issue’”. There is one, however, that I think all Pagans and Heathens, whatever their political or ideological leanings and identification, can agree is something that affects them and all practitioners of minority faiths.
That issue is religious liberty, and I believe that, based on that single issue, Republican Mitt Romney is more deserving of the support of Pagans and Heathens than is Democrat Barack Obama.
Consider the words of their respective party platforms. First, the GOP (which mentions religion 7 times, faith 19 times, and God 9 times):
“In the spirit of the Constitution, we consider discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion, creed, disability, or national origin unacceptable and immoral.”
“We pledge to respect the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard the independence of their institutions from government.”
“We assert every citizen’s right to apply religious values to public policy and the right of faith-based organizations to participate fully in public programs without renouncing their beliefs, removing religious symbols, or submitting to government-imposed hiring practices. We oppose government discrimination against businesses due to religious views.”
“Prosperity provides the means by which individuals and families can maintain their independence from government, raise their children by their own values, practice their faith, and build communities of self-reliant neighbors.”
“The Republican Party includes Americans from every faith and tradition, and our policies and positions respect the right of every American to follow his or her beliefs and underscore our reverence for the religious freedom envisioned by the Founding Fathers of our nation and of our party.”
And now, the DNC (which mentions religion 2 times, faith 8 times, and God one time):
“At the core of the Democratic Party is the principle that no one should face discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability status.”
“Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith-based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world – from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work in communities across this country and the world, and we believe in lifting up and valuing that good work, and finding ways to support it where possible. We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.”
As a rule, when the Republicans mention faith and God, they speak of the rights of the individual citizens to practice their faith, or that individual rights derive from God (the same source that Thomas Jefferson invoked as “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence, which can be seen as the ultimate source of all inalienable human rights.)
When the Democrats mention faith, however, it’s usually in the context of government sponsorship of faith-based programs, and government involvement in private faith-based organizations. Almost nothing is said of the rights of individuals to worship as they wish, except in a negative sense; people should be “free from discrimination”, whereas the Republicans speak of the freedom of the individual to worship. It’s a subtle, but telling, difference; the Democrats are more interested in ending discrimination, while the Republicans are more interested in maintaining rights.
The party platforms, while instructive, are of course not binding either on the party or its Presidential ticket. One must judge the individual candidates on their past histories (if possible) and their public statements. I’m not going to lay court decisions at the feet of either candidate, since that wouldn't be fair. In our country we have separation of powers of the various branches of government, and it’s simply not valid to blame Obama for decisions that Federal courts make during his tenure in office, just as it’s not fair to do so for Massachusetts court decisions during Romney’s term as governor.
It is very true that the Obama administration has had shining examples of supporting the rights of religious organizations when they are pressed by local or state authorities. Many of these initiatives were simply continuations of policies that the Bush administration had put in place, and he got heat from certain quarters on that basis alone, but some were suits filed by the Justice Department that could just as easily not have been filed, and they are to be commended for them. Indeed, on his campaign website, he has a whole section on People of Faith, again, commendable (although some of the entries there don’t touch on religion at all, and are purely economic in content).
However, the Obama administration has been very forceful in putting government policy above individual and institutional religious beliefs and practices. Try, I beg you, to set aside whatever personal convictions you might have about the particulars of the examples I’m about to give, and look at it purely from the standpoint of religious freedom. You may not agree with the position their faith brings them to, but that is immaterial to the larger point of religious liberty being reduced to accommodate government policy. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the specific beliefs that are being undermined; I care immensely, though, for the principle that the government is forcing people who hold those beliefs to violate them.
First, there is the question of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), which mandates insurance coverage for contraceptives by employers. Churches themselves are exempt, but religiously affiliated non-church groups are not, and private companies whose owners object on grounds of conscience are also being required to pay for coverage of something that their religion—their sincerely held, deepest faith—absolutely forbids.
I know. You don’t think it should. You think there’s nothing wrong with contraception. It’s silly to think that the Gods want us to procreate willy-nilly, that the decision to use a condom or other forms of birth control should be up to the people doing the deed, and that the whole thing is a relatively modern interpretation of Genesis with significant periods in history where it was not regarded as a central tenet of the Catholic faith. I know. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly. But that doesn't make it any less a central, overriding, and vital matter of faith to tens of millions of people, and the fact that you and I may disagree with them doesn't mean that the government should feel that it has the power to simply brush aside those feelings to further a policy that it has decided is in the public interest.
(After all, one might say that the public can decide the public interest through the mechanism of the market, rather than having the definition of the public interest forced upon it as a one-size-fits-all policy from Washington. But I digress.)
Then there is the Defense of Marriage Act. This is, technically, the law of the land, and basically says that each state can decide for itself what constitutes marriage. It doesn't define marriage, it doesn't ban gay marriage; it simply makes the states responsible (perfectly in keeping with the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, I should add). Passed by Congress in 1996, signed into law by President Clinton (a Democrat), and it passed in both houses of Congress by wide margins of both parties (the only openly gay Republican congressman did vote against it—yes, you can win a Congressional election as a gay Republican). And yet the Obama administration has decided that it will simply stop defending the act in court.
Again, please try to set aside your personal views of the specific issues of gay marriage or states’ rights. I’m personally in favor of gay marriage, but I think that it’s something that all fifty states should pass on their own, individually, according to the needs and desires of their citizens. The notion that the President can simply ignore legislation that is designed to allow the individual citizens to express their opinions (derived from their faith or by other means), and fail to defend it in the courts, simply because he personally disagrees with what he perceives will be the outcome, should be offensive to anyone who believes in the separation of powers inherent in the Constitution. Sometimes, being the person responsible for enforcing the laws means having to enforce laws you don’t like.
Mitt Romney has a few things from his term as governor that we can look at:
In 2006, he was in favor of a vote for an amendment of the Massachusetts constitution that would effectively ban gay marriage. The measure ended up not receiving enough support in the legislature to be brought before the voters in Mass. Again, although I’m personally in favor of gay marriage, I am even more in favor of people in the individual states being allowed to decide such things for themselves. Just because I am on one side of an issue is no reason to deny someone else the right to vote on it, even if that vote may go a way I don’t like. The Massachusetts legislature might do well to remember that.
In 2005, Romney vetoed a bill that would have required Catholic hospitals to administer contraceptives. This is the same issue mentioned above, from the other side. You and I don’t have to agree with the particular religious tenet that was being defended, but I come down on the side of the person who was willing to defend that religious tenet in the first place. Being in favor of Catholics being allowed to put their Catholic beliefs into practice in their own businesses and charities (note that that’s a very different thing from imposing them on non-Catholics through legislation or governmental fiat) is not the same as endorsing that practice. One can support freedom of religion without endorsing every religion that people are free to practice.
And, the most obvious elephant in the room is Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith itself. Mitt Romney is himself a practitioner of a minority faith. He’s experienced first-hand a lot of discrimination based on his beliefs; although Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, a third of people in the U.S. don’t think they are, and a 3/4 majority of Christian pastors don’t think they are, either.
Now, this isn't really an exhortation that all Pagans and Heathens must support Romney. Mainly, I don’t believe that Pagans and Heathens are single-issue voters, or if they are, religious freedom isn't the issue they’re looking at. If abortion is the single issue that drives your vote, or lower taxes, or Israel, or whatever it happens to be, then you’re going to vote based on that. If, like many Americans, you vote strictly based on party lines and couldn't envision yourself voting for someone with an (R) next to his name even if his opponent was Pol Pot, then you’re going to vote based on that.
However, if you actually have a history of voting based on the individual rather than the party, balancing various issues based on the specific needs of the nation at the time and your personal beliefs, then you might want to just entertain the possibility that Mitt Romney is at least worth looking at. After all, Paganism is a big tent, and no matter what you might read elsewhere, it’s okay to pull the lever for a Republican once in a while, especially if you think his policies will take the country in a better direction than the Democrat. It’s been known to happen.