Isn’t This What Theocracy Looks Like?

Prayer Breakfast Pandering and Unbridled Catholic Power

We are going to lose our secular republic if runaway church politicking is not reined in soon.

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president:

This morning President Bush shared the podium with various Roman Catholic officials at the “third annual National Roman Catholic Prayer Breakfast” in Washington, D.C. A fawning Bush told them he was “thrilled to be here with the cardinals of the church.” He pointed out how “proud” he was that Chief Justice John Roberts, one of five Catholics now on the Supreme Court, was also in attendance. Throwing some raw meat to the Catholic Church, which seeks a global ban on abortion, Bush promised to “work to strengthen a culture of life, [and] expand the protections of the unborn.” President Bush’s Remarks to Catholic Prayer breakfast.

Isn’t this what theocracy looks like? Religious leaders crook a finger as politicians come running to do their bidding, eager to pander to “the Catholic vote.” The few politicians today with any semblance of commitment to state/church separation are put between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t wear religion on their sleeves, the rightwing pundits dominating our media insist they can’t get elected.

Catholics may have as many prayer breakfasts as they like, although clearly they have a political agenda by starting this new tradition in D.C. But it is unseemly for politicians and public officials to attend in their official capacity.

Among the players at today’s breakfast was Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wis. Morlino is part of the Catholic cabal in Wisconsin politicking for passage of a referendum this fall to ban same-sex unions or marriage. The far-reaching initiative also threatens Wisconsin’s progressive state laws offering health coverage and other rights to unmarried domestic partners, gay or straight.

In an embarrassing and primitive March 5 homily on the antigay referendum, Morlino, a throwback to the Dark Ages, intoned in all seriousness: “Satan has a plan to destroy family life.”

In a classic piece of doublespeak, Morlino sermonized:

“There are also some who are going to be on our side in protecting marriage, some politicians, saying, ‘Geez, all of George Bush’s friends are turning against him. George Will is turning against him. Bill Buckley is turning against him. He’s got big troubles. How are we going to win in November? We’ve got to get the vote out. Let’s put a Protect Marriage Amendment on the ballot so we can get the conservatives out and then maybe we can protect conservative interests.’ I know that when we go to protect marriage, some of those people are on my side; they may even want to make it look like I’m on their side. . . . I can’t help who appears to be on our side in this battle, . . .” “Fighting a battle: To Protect marriage, family life” The Catholic Herald, March 16, 2006.

Gee, Morlino “just can’t help” that his church invited the President of the United States to appear on a platform with him?

Morlino’s homily of course deceptively telegraphed his political views to his congregation, and perfectly described the situation in Wisconsin. The beleaguered incumbent Democratic governor (a pro-choice Roman Catholic who opposes the referendum) is up for reelection this fall, and will now face the religious get-out-the-vote and vote-against-gays campaign. It was no coincidence the 11 antigay referenda that passed in November 2004 were credited with carrying those states for Bush and his party.

Every state that has entertained an antigay referendum item on the ballot–purely at the instigation of religious lobbies and their religious political lackeys–has passed the ban. That’s 19 so far, and counting. Why? It’s easy to explain.

For example: last Sunday, Father Laverne G. Meier at St. Norbert’s Catholic Church in Roxbury, Wis., ordered his congregation to “Get out and vote in November and vote YES” to ban same-sex unions.

In a long paragraph in his church bulletin, the priest repeatedly instructed his flock to support the ban. This priest’s exhortation is just the tip of the iceberg. Such exhortations and many far more dictatorial are and will be taking place “en mass” for the next half year in Roman Catholic, Mormon, most evangelical and fundamentalist churches across Wisconsin, and several other states in our nation. Their flocks are being told “God told me to tell you to vote this way,” yet the IRS considers such speech apolitical.

Tax-exempt churches, which do not have to report their income and expenses to the government, unlike other nonprofits, are currently permitted to explicitly tell their congregations how to vote in referenda. That is much different from, for instance, conveying its opinion on gay marriage. Referenda often concern gay rights, abortion, school vouchers for religious schools and other hot-button issues in which churches have a vested interest. This lack of regulation is a serious loophole in IRS policy.

Making it worse, many churches are polling sites, where members of the congregation can be instructed on Sundays how to vote in the same church the following Tuesday! Imagine the advantage this gives the “home team.”

Although the campaign to counter Wisconsin’s referendum is drawing on liberal churches to counter the power of the religious right, they are vastly outnumbered by the hegemony of Roman Catholics and various fundamentalists. The United Church of Christ is the only major U.S. Christian denomination that actually permits same-sex marriage, so most liberal churches aren’t even all that liberal on this issue, anyway.

The lesson to be drawn: If runaway church politicking is not reined in soon, we are going to lose our secular republic.

Presidents should not be beholden to, much less be anointed by, religious leaders.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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