Friday, October 12, 2012

Vice President Biden's Selective Imposition of His Religious Views

Imposed Their Religiously-Informed Views on Others

At last night’s debate Vice President Biden repeated the assertion that, although he is Pro-Life and personally opposed to abortion, he will not seek to impose that view on individuals who do not share that position. He also repeated his endorsement of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), which held that states cannot ban abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy and can only ban the practice in the second trimester if necessary to protect the health of the mother.  Thus, Vice President Biden endorsed a more robust right to abortion than recognized by the Supreme Court, which partly overruled Roe in 1992, holding that states may adopt provisions such as waiting periods that discourage abortions so long as such provisions do not "unduly burden" the practice. See Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). The Vice President also promised that a second Obama Administration would appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who agreed with Roe.

The Vice President’s claim that imposing religiously-motivated views on others is inappropriate in a democratic society is perplexing to say the least and contrary to the Vice President's own statements.  After all, in the very same answer, the Vice President endorsed what he called “Catholic social doctrine” as a guide to legislation. Moreover, the Vice President defined this doctrine as “taking care of those who, who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.”  (He did not explain why the unborn can "take care of themselves.")  These views were on display throughout the debate, as the Vice President repeatedly called for higher taxes on the wealthy and opposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare, for instance. (Whether Catholic social doctrine actually requires such positions is an entirely different question, of course.  See here.) Put another way, the Vice President repeatedly expressed a desire to employ coercive legislation, including higher taxes, to impose his religiously-informed economic policies on individuals who might strongly disagree.  Ditto for other Catholic politicians who have, over the years, invoked religious beliefs to justify coercive minimum wages, mandatory collective bargaining, and other forms of economic intervention.

Civil rights legislation provides another example. During the 1960s religious leaders like The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Father Theodore Hesburgh (then President of Notre Dame), marched in support of Civil Rights legislation. (Both men are pictured above at a Civil Rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago in the summer of 1964.) Indeed, as a member of the nation’s Civil Rights Commission, Father Hesburgh helped draft the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Among other things, the Act banned racial discrimination in privately-owned public accommodations such as motels, restaurants and theaters, over the vehement objection of segregationists. Put another way, Dr. King, Father Hesburgh and numerous other Americans advocated legislation that coercively imposed their religiously-motivated views on others. Fortunately these great men and the men and women who followed their lead did not share Vice President Biden’s selective aversion to “imposing their views on others.”  Religion has informed our Nation's public debates since the founding, and we are stronger for it.