By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 5, 2006
As election day draws near-Tuesday, November, 7th is the day on which a sound conscience will prompt a U. S. citizen to vote and to vote responsibly-it's important to keep in mind a fact of crucial importance, namely that within the whole range of rights to which every human being can lay claim, rights whose protection is the proper function and duty of government, there is one right that is the foundation of all the others, the right to life. Take that right away and it's "lights out!" for all the other rights as well.
Pope John Paul the Great did not mince words: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination" (Christifideles Laici, 1988).
Unlike the ancient Athenians who devised a democratic system under which the entire citizen body voted directly without intermediaries to determine important state policy, the citizens of a modem democratic state elect representatives who are asked to study issues bearing on the common good and then, presumably guided by the principles that they had saluted during their election campaign, to cast their votes in the legislature and to make policy decisions in the executive branch, in our name. This system of representative democracy works well as long as certain conditions are met, namely that:
1. The majority of the citizens take the trouble to cast their votes at election time so that small but well organized groups do not impose policies that the majority in fact oppose;
2. The majority of the voters cast their votes on the basis of principle rather than for trivial considerations or calculations based exclusively on self-interest;
3. In discharging their duties the candidates who are elected remain true to the principles on the basis of which they were elected;
4. These principles do not conflict with the moral law, that is to say, do not violate any natural right of man.
When these four conditions are met a society emerges that can legitimately claim to be fundamentally just. To the degree that those conditions are not met one is faced with a society that is sowing the seeds of its own dissolution, since in the long run what is morally wrong cannot be politically right.
To say this is to paraphrase what America's Catholic bishops declared a few years ago (in 1998) in their magnificent statement: Living the Gospel of Life. May I quote briefly from that statement:
"We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and a privilege, but as an opportunity.... to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially the lives of those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable. We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue- or lack thereof- is a judgment not only on them, but on us. Because of this, we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self interest" (1998, US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.)
In other words, when you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, November 7th, take your conscience with you!