Category Archives: Issues for Catholic Voters
“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, where there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (Pacem in Terris, 25).
Persons emigrate from one country to another for a variety of reasons. It may be for reasons of stark persecution, the desire to escape poverty, or to seek greater opportunity. The Church views emigration as a right that should be recognized by every nation. That right is rooted in the belief that each person should have access to the basic goods that constitute the universal common good.
The willingness of one country to accept persons across the borders and offer them a home is emblematic of the unity of the human family and an act of human solidarity. Some political leaders have spared no effort to restrict—and, in some cases, end—legal immigration to the United States. They argue that new immigrants do not assimilate to the American way of life and pose a threat to the jobs of U.S. citizens.
Some immigrants may just need time to adjust to America mores and culture. In fact, a period of living in ethnic communities may be what immigrants need to be prepared for mainstream society. Given the core of Catholic social teaching, any political candidate who impedes this process or betrays a hostile attitude toward immigrants should be found wanting.
The prosperity of the United States, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, places a special obligation on its citizens and elected representatives: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (CCC 2241).
The Church also recognizes that a country has the right to control its borders while monitoring and setting reasonable limits on immigration. The United States may also protect its cultural patrimony, which some immigrants to America may initially not share. But Catholics should avoid the kind of nationalist and “nativist” rhetoric that was once used to discourage Catholics from arriving on the shores of our nation. Finally, the threat of possible terrorist infiltration is legitimate but should not overshadow the basic Catholic obligation of “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.”
- The Church affirms the basic human right of human persons to emigrate from one nation to another for “just reasons,” such as economic well being.
- At the same time, every state has the duty to protect its borders, regulate the flow of immigrants, and document their presence.
- The prudential challenge for our nation is simultaneously recognizing the right to emigrate for “just reasons” while protecting the common good by the reasonable control of our borders.
- Catholics should remember when the economic conditions of European countries, like Ireland and Italy, sent thousands of emigrants to the United States to seek a better life.
“Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).
Man’s relationship with the environment is subject to various principles of Catholic social teaching, such as solidarity and prudence, and the preferential option for the poor. The Church does not think environmental issues can be resolved through economic or scientific means alone—the underlying moral and cultural causes must be addressed if changes are to become permanent.
At creation, the Church teaches, men and women were made the stewards of this world. Despite this authority, we do not have an unfettered rule over the environment. Our control is subject to the same moral restrictions that are imposed on governing our bodies: Just as governments serve to protect the common good, so too must we recognize our solidarity with the natural world and its resources. (more…)
“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that . . . no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).
As created by God, human beings have an intrinsic dignity. The natural desire to hold religious beliefs and to practice forms of religious worship are expressions of that dignity and must be considered a fundamental human right.
Since religious beliefs around the world are not uniform, the right to religious belief and practice posits a corresponding duty of respect for religious liberty. This duty of respect requires tolerance for different religious viewpoints and an appreciation for religious pluralism.
The state must guard the religious liberty of all faith traditions, both in law and public policy. This protection is spelled out in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It’s essential to note that this amendment in no way prohibits the freedom of religious expression, but it forbids the United States from designating one faith tradition as an official religion.
Protection of the common good, however, can take precedence over an individual’s right to religious expression. Therefore, religious liberty does not protect those who promote violent demonstrations of faith or call people to commit violent acts.
The impact of the First Amendment, properly understood, protects freedom of religious expression and protects people of faith against those who would impose their secular beliefs on others. But, sadly, this has not been the case. During the past 35 years, government authorities have implicitly established secularism as an official state religion.
Secularism has taken many forms: the removal of voluntary religious instruction in public schools; the banning of voluntary private prayer in public schools; employment discrimination against those who openly practice their faith; the promotion of an atheist “ethos”; and mandatory contraceptive coverage in health plans. “It is therefore difficult . . . to accept a position that gives only atheism the right of citizenship in public and social life, while believers are, as though by principle, barely tolerated or are treated as second-class citizens” (Redemptor Hominis, 17).
The greatest threat to religious liberty at present is the adoption of same-sex marriage laws in six states, the latest being New York. Although same-sex marriage legislation contains exemptions for church institutions from civil suits for refusing to perform same-sex marriages, there is no guarantee how these exemptions will survive judicial review. Church institutions can also be punished by loss of government contracts for social services. San Francisco revoked $3.5 million in social services contracts from the Salvation Army when it refused, for religious reasons, to provide benefits to its employees’ same-sex partners.
The issue that most people have long identified with religious liberty—the display of religious symbols—is the easiest to resolve. Allowing the display of religious symbols does not constitute the “establishment” of a state religion but rather the history of our nation. The founding of America was rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings incorporated into our legal system and the document of our democratic charter.
The importance of religion to the development of our nation can be seen in the development of our education and health care systems. For the first 125 years of the American experience, our citizens and our government relied upon the money and work invested by faith-based organizations in education and health care. But in recent years, government funds for both education and health care have made secular demands on the religious institutions. This is discriminatory and a clear violation of religious liberty.
Secular and faith-based organizations should play on a level playing field in competing for government funds. Faith-based organizations that accept government funding must not be forced to sacrifice their religious liberties. For example, a Catholic hospital that receives a government grant should not be required to provide contraception and abortion services.
- The desire for religious belief and practice is natural to the human person who is created in the “image and likeness” of God.
- Religious liberty, therefore, is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of the human person and must be protected by law and public policy.
- The First Amendment protects religious expression and also protects people of faith from the enforced secularism of public institutions.
- Public display of religious symbols from the Judeo-Christian tradition do not establish a religion but rather express the historical development of our nation and its culture.
“…those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere” (Libertatis Conscientia, 68).
At a recent meeting of religious conservatives, a Catholic activist approached several Catholic politicians holding a Bible open to Matthew 25 containing Gospel admonitions to help the poor. The activist attempted to equate the obligatory nature of Church teaching on life and marriage with the issue of proposed cuts to the federal budget. This is the predictable strategy of left-wing Catholics to distract attention away from Catholic politicians who support abortion and gay marriage.
The “preferential option for the poor” challenges Catholics to make a special effort to help those in poverty. How this is translated into public policy is a matter for prudential judgment. Budgets are a compendium of these judgments by assigning tax revenue to programs to assist those in poverty. (more…)
“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance” (CCC 2288).
The issue of health care dominated the debate during the 2010 election. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, attempts to provide universal care for American citizens long supported by the bishops.
Some people falsely assume that for health care to be universal it must be managed by the federal government. In fact, the bishops have never stipulated how universal health care – reasonable access for everyone to adequate health care – should be achieved. It could have been achieved by a combination of personal and corporate insurance coverage, supplemented by philanthropic and governmental programs. (more…)
This coming November the Catholic bishops will approve a new version of their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document.
The 36-page statement on political responsibility was hotly debated at the bishops’ meeting in 2007, though only four bishops voted against it. At the time, Archbishop Raymond Burke made an impassioned plea for his fellow bishops to reconsider problematic sections of “Faithful Citizenship” to no avail. (more…)
Calling itself “a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture,” The Barna Group just released what purports to be “Christian Preferences for the 2012 Republican Nomination.”
Barna’s polling of mainline Protestant, non-mainline Protestant (Evangelical), and Catholics is marked by an additional category called “Born again Christians.” These are defined not as people who describe themselves as “born again,” but as those “who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.” (more…)
A few weeks ago Catholic Advocate noted the skewered approach to polling Catholics utilized by the Barna Group — “Another Lesson in Misunderstanding Catholic Voters” — an organization of highly respected pollsters in the Evangelical community. (more…)
“In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing” (Mater et Magistra, 132).
Every citizen has a moral obligation to contribute to the common good. In financial terms, this responsibility is carried out primarily through a person’s labor and the wealth it creates. But a citizen also contributes through the payment of taxes, which are used to fund the cost of government.
Balancing this tax burden is a matter of prudential judgment. Taxes that are adjusted to income levels are designed to place more of the burden on the wealthy. However, some argue that this policy penalizes those who are successful and discourages them from further investment and industry that creates jobs. In other words, “taxing the rich” may have negative consequences for the economy as a whole.
How the combination of progressive and regressive taxes is balanced is a source of much debate. Regardless of the solution, taxation policy should not become a weapon in class warfare. Citizens should work together to create a solution that is fair to all sides. The common good should be the goal of any taxation policy, not the interests of one particular class.
A just tax system is one that is based on a citizen’s ability to pay in proportion to the cost of maintaining government. In supporting their nation and communities, taxpayers should not find themselves unable to provide for their own families or maintain their businesses. Workers should earn enough money to pay their taxes and still take home a “living wage.” Traditional families should also be encouraged. This means that a husband working full-time should be able to support his wife and children at home.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many mothers are forced to leave their children in order to earn second incomes because of the amount of tax the fathers must pay out of their incomes. This economic pressure adds to the stress and emotional cost to parents and their children. This is why the USCCB has supported family-friendly tax legislation, such as tax credits for children and direct rebates to low-income families with dependents. The bishops’ conference has also supported adjustments that would reduce the “marriage penalty” by increasing the qualifying amount for married workers.
Large corporations, small businesses, and other institutions that employ workers also have a significant impact on family stability, as well as on society as a whole. In addition to paying workers’ wages, corporations provide financial support for the common good by paying federal and state income taxes. These taxes represent another major source of revenue for the government.
To sustain the corporations and businesses that provide employment and financial support, the government should ensure that corporate taxes are low enough for both large and small companies to operate at optimal levels. “Governments must provide regulations and a system of taxation which encourage firms to preserve the environment, employ disadvantaged workers, and create jobs in depressed areas. Managers and stockholders should not be torn between their responsibilities to their organizations and their responsibilities toward society as a whole” (USCCB, Economic Justice for All, 118).
- Taxes should be fairly based upon one’s ability to pay.
- Tax policy should not penalize marriage or the raising of children.
- Corporate taxes should not threaten the capacity to create and sustain jobs.
The well-being of our families, communities, and nation depends on the success of business and industry to create wealth. The greater the growth of industry, the more stable our society becomes: “Another name for peace is development. Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war, so too there is a collective responsibility for promoting development” (Centesimus Annus, 52).
Business and industry create the wealth that provides financial support for their workers, both blue and white collar, and their families through earned wages, medical benefits, life insurance, disability, and pension plans. Without these wages and benefits, most workers would be unable to obtain the goods necessary to living life without relying on the government for direct assistance. (more…)