Further Adventures in Religious Rightism in the Democratic Party
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 01:43:39 PM EST
Great stinks used to be raised when, during the Bush administration, ideologues whose religious views conflicted with the basic science, law and even the constitutional underpinnings of the offices to which they were appointed.  Today, not so much.  

This was certainly the case when Catholic antiabortion, anti-contraception ideologue, Alexia Kelly, the executive director of the Democratic Party oriented Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good was appointed head the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  While there was a certain amount of initial outrage, it soon stopped, did not spread very far, and we have hardly heard a peep about it since

But journalist Sarah Posner writes in The Nation, that the Obama administration is on a full-boat pander to antiabortion evangelicals and Catholics in ways that concern not only abortion rights supporters, but separation of church and state watchdogs; and  Catholics for Choice has issued an investigative report on how the views of Kelly and her Catholics in Alliance cohort are far more in tune with the Religious Right than with the Democratic Party.  (PDF)

Posner writes:

At HHS, under Alexia Kelley's purview, tens of millions of dollars in grants are available to faith-based groups for projects including substance abuse treatment, mental health services, HIV prevention, family planning and even research on the influence of religiosity and spirituality on health-risk behaviors in children and adolescents. Although the Obama administration eliminated federal funding for abstinence-only sex education, the HHS website directs potential grantees to abstinence-only funding available through state governments.

Kelley's appointment is the latest in a series of alarming developments at the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP), which oversees a network of faith-based and neighborhood partnership centers at eleven federal agencies (including the one Kelley will head). During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would expand George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives because "the challenges we face today...are simply too big for government to solve alone." But he also promised to end the constitutional violations of Bush's faith-based programs by requiring that federal dollars that go to churches, temples and mosques "only be used on secular programs" and by forbidding programs that accept federal money from proselytizing or discriminating against people in hiring on the basis of religion.
Since he has taken office, however, Obama has backtracked or stalled on these pledges. Perhaps more disturbing, Obama's OFBNP, while still a work in progress, is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs--exactly the problems that marked Bush's faith-based initiative.

It is this constituency--center-right evangelicals and Catholics--that Obama continued to appease through the creation of a twenty-five-member advisory council to the OFBNP. The council's mission is to provide policy guidance on poverty, abortion reduction, responsible fatherhood and global interfaith relations. Church-state separation advocates see the council's mandate, which frames major policy issues in religious terms and institutionalizes an outside council of advisers, as a step beyond even Bush's faith-based initiative. "This council either comes dangerously close, or it is a kind of institutional intertwining of religion and government," says [Interfaith Alliance president, Welton] Gaddy.

[Former Catholics for Choice leader, Frances] Kissling calls the OFBNP's mandate to address abortion "shocking." Expanding the role of the faith-based office to include abortion policy "sends a very clear message about what the administration thinks religion is and what the philosophical underpinnings of the administration's approach to abortion is. The administration's approach is religious."

Here are a few exerpts from "The Trouble with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good," (PDF)

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) ...  may just seem like another Catholic social justice organization, focusing solely on traditional Catholic social teaching such as care of the poor, environmental sustainability and economic justice. However, a closer look reveals that a key aim of CACG is to oppose the availability of legal abortion.

As it seeks to develop a higher media profile, the antichoice beliefs of CACG become more apparent. For example, in November 2008, one CACG letter to the editor in the Washington Post in response to an article entitled "Some Abortion Foes Shifting Focus from Ban to Reduction" stated, "[Pope John Paul II's] language about building a "culture of life" addressed the need for a broad response--legal, social, and cultural--to prevent abortion."2 This letter did more than all the public pronouncements of Catholics in Alliance to reveal its true colors: it is at one with one of the most antichoice popes in the modern era on abortion.

In concentrating on reducing the number of abortions, rather than the need for abortion, CACG is simply repackaging the antiabortion stance of the most conservative elements of society and denigrating those who argue for full sexual and reproductive rights. At an event launching what it called its "multi-year public education campaign" in July 2006, Executive Director Kelley noted: "At the core of Catholic teaching is a moral obligation to promote the common good. This includes looking out for the least fortunate and creating a society in which we as citizens care about our neighbors as ourselves."8 Other speakers mentioned "great moral matters" such as poverty, war and torture, and global climate change, but abortion was never mentioned, as CACG began the process of decoupling abortion from core Democratic values. CACG's position on abortion is firmly planted on the far right.  It mirrors the language of the very Christian conservatives CACG hopes to rebuff in its belief that abortion can never be a moral option for women nor should it be an essential part of social justice. In its own words: "Catholics in Alliance is prolife.

We support full legal protections for unborn children, as a requirement of justice and as a matter of essential human rights."

CACG asserts that voting for a prochoice candidate is moral, even though abortion is evil. Ignoring church teaching on conscience, the organization incorrectly frames voting for a prochoice candidate in terms of prudence, asserting that one can vote for a prochoice candidate if the voter is voting based on "proportionate reasons" and not on the candidate's position on reproductive rights. Nonetheless, CACG still holds that the act of abortion is immoral. As Alexia Kelley wrote in the book she cowrote with Catholics United executive director Chris Korzen, A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division, "Performing an abortion or driving someone to an abortion clinic to have one would be a clear example of formal cooperation in evil. But voting for a candidate who does not believe abortion should be illegal would constitute only material cooperation."

The report also discusses a voter guide issued by Catholics in Alliance:

More disturbingly, the guide equates abortion with the horrors of torture and war, saying that Catholics have a duty to "build the essential conditions for a culture of life, to end affronts to human life such as poverty, abortion, torture, and war."   By equating abortion with torture, CACG shreds any idea that abortion can be a moral choice or that women who have an abortion are moral human beings.

The Religious Right, which has always had a presence in the Democratic Party, is expanding its role by exploiting such contemporary ( and dubious) fashions in the Party as "faith outreach," and "common ground."  If progressives continue to ignore the trend, it may turn out to be an error of historic proportions.

State/church separation? No. National healthcare not based upon insurance companies? No. Punishing corporations who illegally snoop on its citizens for the gov't? No. Violating a treaty and becoming a war criminal himself? Yes. Is Obama just a different face for the same group that wants to turn us into a theocracy? So far a strong yes! Sadly, I think the cabal of Christian nationalists have taken over both allowed parties in our two party (only) system. That includes all of the Red Dog Democrats. The Republicans changed to red remember? Obama is touted as a Constitutional scholar, what has he written? He taught it but in what way? The David Barton way? One thing is you wouldn't want Machiavelli to be the one who is expert in you Constitution being in charge would you? We know many of them see where Machiavelli is of great use to them. He is no use to us.

by Nightgaunt on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 01:44:39 PM EST

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