How Far Will Ideologues Go? Rep. Harris On Church, State and “Legislating Sin.”

Scott Swenson

If there was any shred of doubt left about where Rep. Katherine Harris (FL) stands on the political spectrum, there is none now. She has moved beyond conservative, beyond even far right, and set up camp somewhere in the exurbs of funny fringe land. She, the woman who presided over one of the great election debacles in all of US history, damaging people's faith in democracy, now says the founding fathers never intended for church and state to be separate.

She said that the separation of church and state is, "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws (like abortion). That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended."

Let's check in with Thomas Jefferson on that:

Almighty God hath created the mind free ... No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion ...

Rep. Harris' comments are evidence of a larger rift within the nation, and in particular the Republican Party, as social conservative ideologues are increasingly being held accountable for their reckless rhetoric.

If there was any shred of doubt left about where Rep. Katherine Harris (FL) stands on the political spectrum, there is none now. She has moved beyond conservative, beyond even far right, and set up camp somewhere in the exurbs of funny fringe land. She, the woman who presided over one of the great election debacles in all of US history, damaging people's faith in democracy, now says the founding fathers never intended for church and state to be separate.

She said that the separation of church and state is, "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws (like abortion). That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended."

Let's check in with Thomas Jefferson on that:

Almighty God hath created the mind free … No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion …

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Rep. Harris' comments are evidence of a larger rift within the nation, and in particular the Republican Party, as social conservative ideologues are increasingly being held accountable for their reckless rhetoric. Voters who once believed, now doubt that the term "conservative" means protecting the rights of the individual, and that having leaders whose decisions were "informed by faith" means that those same leaders respect all faiths.

This erosion of the founding principles of our democracy is the logical, dare I say, evolution, of the anti-choice movement that has come full circle to claim its prize. From small groups of genuine people practicing their faith–but in the process trying deny the ability of others to practice theirs by denying women's rights to a basic health procedure–a radical ideological movement of social conservatives has grown power hungry. In its wake, we find not a reasoned approach to determining how best to reduce abortion, but rather a full fledged movement that seeks nothing less than complete control of the body politic and the establishment of one theocracy, indivisible, with liberty and justice for some; and choice, contraception, sexuality education, stem cell research, etc., … for none.

The attack on Roe v. Wade remains their centerpiece as is seen in South Dakota. Beyond reproductive health, this radical movement has threatened the education of the coming generations. At a time when science literacy should not be an "elective" for students, this movement believes genuine learning should be replaced in public schools by their beliefs and theirs alone.

At the end of life, Rep. Harris' home state of Florida provided the nation with a tutorial on just how far the radical right fringe will go in pursuing their belief that families across America should not have the right to make personal life decisions for themselves. They usurped every level of governmental authority in an attempt to keep Terri Schiavo alive. Now, her husband Michael Schiavo is actively campaigning against candidates whose "holier than thou" approach to his wife's years of languishing in a persistent vegetative state, combined with their political ambition, contributed to a better understanding of just what the radical right is really all about.

Sen. John McCain (AZ) is trying to have it both ways in his effort to wrap up the GOP presidential nomination before the 2006 mid-terms. He wants to be the Heir to the Bush family claims to the White House–divinely chosen, according to Rep. Harris one assumes–but his famed "Straight Talk Express" is veering off course into, as John Stewart said "crazy base land" to cozy up to those who believe like Rep. Harris that, "if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

As Mr. Jefferson said, Rep. Harris is entitled to freely, "profess and by argument to maintain, (her) opinion in matters of religion."

Because he wrote that into the essence of our governing principles, so can we all.

It’s Magic: How Can McCain and Palin Still Support Ab-Only?

Emily Douglas

Given the United States' teen pregnancy rate, the fact that a teenage daughter of a candidate for national office is pregnant shouldn't come as a surprise. What should stop us in our tracks is the fact that both candidates on the Republican ticket still back abstinence-only programs.

Pregnant seventeen-year-old? McCain aid Mark
Salter responds
, "This is an American family."

As a matter of fact, it is. 
Teenage pregnancy doesn’t just happen to Juno, Jamie Lynn, and the
daughter of the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee.  Nationwide, one
in ten births
comes to a teenage mother. 
Three in ten girls in the United States become pregnant by
age 20.  Recently, teen
parenting has become more common
: between 2005 and 2006, the teen birth
rate increased by three percent.

Given the United
States’ teen pregnancy rate, the fact that a
teenage daughter of a candidate for national office is pregnant shouldn’t come as
a surprise.  What should stop us in our
tracks is the fact that both candidates on the Republican ticket still back
abstinence-only programs, repeatedly proven ineffective at preventing
pregnancy, decreasing risk for STI transmission and at delaying sexual initiation.  Responding to a questionnaire from the Eagle
Forum while running for governor of Alaska,
Sarah
Palin wrote
that "the explicit
sex-ed programs will not find my support." 
McCain, for his part, says he
"thinks he supports the President’s policy." 
Given that President Bush has enthusiastically shelled out upwards of $1
billion to abstinence-only programs, it’s a fair bet that McCain would keep
these ineffective measures on the gravy train, too.

Back in April 2007,
Mathematica Policy Research released a congressionally-mandated study of four federally-funded
abstinence-only programs, finding that abstinence-only programs are not only
ineffective but harmful to teens. At the time, William Smith, vice
president for public policy for SIECUS, stated, "This report should serve as
the final verdict on the failure of the abstinence-only industry in this
country."  But on conference call
organized by abstinence-only advocates in the wake of the report’s release, it
became clear that abstinence-only advocates weren’t going to rely on empirical
evidence as justification for their position. 
"The…spin I think is very important is not [program] effectiveness, but
rather the values that are being taught," said one advocate. Whether or not
these programs work is a "bogus issue," he continued.

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Since the release of the Mathematica report, opposition to
abstinence-only has only mounted.  When
the Democratic-controlled Congress considered extending abstinence-only
funding, ten
scientists wrote
to Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid to express
their opposition.  Douglas Kirby’s 2007
"Emerging Answers" report couldn’t find any strong evidence of the impact of
abstinence-only programs on sexual behavior. 
By April 2008, Congress was holding its first oversight hearings on
abstinence-only funding, and only
one public health researcher
spoke in favor of abstinence-only, opposing to
the consensus reached by major American public health and medical
organizations.  And his evidence was one
study showing that abstinence-only programs can have a modest effect on seventh
graders delaying sex.  The 2008
Republican Party platform shudders at the "22% of all federal programs that are
ineffective or incapable of demonstrating results."  And yet their dogmatic support of
abstinence-only funding survives.

But
we don’t only know that abstinence-only doesn’t
work.  Luckily for the American people,
there’s a proven alternative – comprehensive sexuality education.  Emerging Answers found that "Two-thirds
of the 48 comprehensive programs that supported both abstinence and the use of
condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavioral
effects."  Contrary to claims made by
abstinence-only advocates, comprehensive sex ed doesn’t promote promiscuity.

Given this arsenal
of evidence, is there any other conclusion to be made than that McCain, Palin,
and the rest of the religious right (and the politicians who pander to them)
don’t actually care that much about teens getting pregnant?  "Gov. Palin and Sen. McCain are supporting abstinence-only
because of ideology, not because it’s doing a single thing for teenagers in America," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. 

President of the National Abstinence
Clearinghouse, Leslee
Unruh
, spun Bristol Palin’s pregnancy thusly: "Abstinence
works. It works every single time…Blaming sex education for the failures of
people who make a mistake is not fair." 
The disconnect is radical: to Unruh, abstinence-only programs are a kind
of values indoctrination, not an educational program to be evaluated by their effect on pupils’
subsequent behavior.  She tries again:
"If she was [given information about abstinence], it should have worked.
But people make mistakes." Okay. So
once teens are exposed to the force of abstinence-only logic, it will
"work" its magic.  If it doesn’t, it’s a sign
of moral turpitude on the part of the teens involved, not on the part of the
adults who would restrict sexual health information from them.

Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education counter that
we all know mistakes happen, and that, in fact, there’s a way to teach for them
– kind of like when your SCUBA gear fails, oxygen is still delivered.  Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is "a reminder
of how, even in strong families where youth are taught to refrain from sex
until marriage, teens can make poor decisions," says Stephen Conley, executive
director of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and
Therapists. "Teens need the reinforcement of school programs that give them the
information and skills they need to take responsibility for their sexual
health."  There are skills that can
mitigate the effects of poor sexual decision-making – knowing about emergency
contraception – and there are skills that can prevent poor sexual decision-making
– keeping condoms accessible, strong sexual communication skills, knowledge
about STI status.  But McCain and Palin
oppose programs that would teach any of these. The McCain-Palin ticket, says Richards, "is completely out-of-touch — the vast majority of people in America believe
young people should get the information they need."

What ab-only
proponents and supportive politicians seem to oppose is not unintended pregnancy
but teens, specifically, teen girls, having access to information and education
about their sexuality and sexual health. 
For advocates of comprehensive sexuality education, dismantling
disempowering stereotypes of female sexual behavior and teaching communication and negotiation skills is as significant a goal as
dispensing information about how to prevent pregnancy and the spread of
sexually transmitted infections.  But
female passivity and male aggression are the very stereotypes abstinence-only
programs rely on to set behavioral standards. 
When the women’s legal rights organization Legal Momentum studied
abstinence-only curricula, it found that a "hidden curriculum on gender" that
set up women as sexual gatekeepers responsible for keeping men’s desire in
check.

Teen child-bearing
in the US costs taxpayers $9.1 billion
. This year’s  Democratic platform calls
for support – including income support and pre- and post-natal health care – for
teens and adult women wanting to carry unplanned pregnancies to term, in
addition to backing comprehensive sexuality education and contraceptive access.  Too bad the Republican platform doesn’t call
for the education that could help teens prevent pregnancy.  Too bad the Republican platform calls for a
constitutional amendment banning the right to terminate the pregnancies teens
don’t know how to prevent. And too bad the Republican platform makes no mention
of the concrete support systems that could actually benefits the new teen moms
who aren’t quite lucky enough to be governor’s daughters.

“It Supplemented Factual Information With a Value Judgment” One Court Gets It Correct

Scott Swenson

"It supplemented factual information with a value judgment."

With that one sentence, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals not only struck down a South Dakota law dictating values to doctors and patients, but also summed up social conservative ideology, their campaign tactics and their governing majority that makes social conservatives responsible and accountable for every branch of government today.

The South Dakota law would have required doctors who perform abortions to tell women that they are about to "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The Federal Appeals Court wrote, “Unlike the truthful, nonmisleading medical and legal information doctors were required to disclose” in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “the South Dakota statute requires abortion doctors to enunciate the state’s viewpoint on an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue, that is, whether a fetus is a human being.”

"It supplemented factual information with a value judgment."

With that one sentence, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals not only struck down a South Dakota law dictating values to doctors and patients, but also summed up social conservative ideology, their campaign tactics and their governing majority that makes social conservatives responsible and accountable for every branch of government today.

The South Dakota law would have required doctors who perform abortions to tell women that they are about to "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The Federal Appeals Court wrote, “Unlike the truthful, nonmisleading medical and legal information doctors were required to disclose” in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “the South Dakota statute requires abortion doctors to enunciate the state’s viewpoint on an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue, that is, whether a fetus is a human being.”

In another example of social conservative government dictating values, comes reports that the Bush Administration abstinence-only policies for teens is now becoming a "no sex unless you are married" policy of your United States government. That's right freedom loving people, the Taliban is here. The justification for this policy is that 19-29 year olds are having children, but recall that the same social conservatives instituting this no sex policy advocate prohibiting contraception and encourage families of between 7-10 children.

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So 19-29 year old voters strapped with college debt, your government, replacing fact with value judgment, could determine that contraception will be outlawed, that you cannot have sex outside of heterosexual marriage, and then once married, you will have to use natural family planning and produce 7-10 children to be raised on James Dobson's tapes and lectures. Welcome to the USA!

The "we know best" abstinence campaign will spend millions of taxpayer dollars to promote one narrow ideology. James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth summed it up best, "They've stepped over the line of common sense. To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex is in essence to lose touch with reality. It's an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health."

Emerging from the courts, the congress and the administration is a consistent pattern of social conservatives tactics — replacing fact with value judgments. As the mid-term elections approach, voters must decide if they want to continue on a course that has clearly lost touch with reality and moved unabashedly into dictaing values to people. Voters must use these facts to assert their own values, or risk having other people's values dictated to them.

One reason some of us work so hard to promote choice is because we don't want to go back to a time when we had none. Choosing time is here.