This Tuesday Virginians go to the polls to elect their state and local leaders. The right to vote is one of the greatest of our blessings as Americans, and one of our most solemn duties. And it is one of our proudest legacies as Virginians that this right, along with so many others, was originally secured by efforts of so many great Virginians—giants like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, and Henry.
For them the dream that would become the United States of America was worth fighting and dying for. Is it for us? If so, why is it that so many of us won’t even take the time this Tuesday to defend the American blessing, the Virginian legacy, by simply taking time to vote.
There are many who want to change America and Virginia, to lead us away from our foundational beliefs. In particular, they would discard the sacred words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”
Today many attack this creed. They would have our laws deny the belief that 1) it is God, our creator, who gives us our inalienable rights; 2) governments exist primarily to secure the rights God has given; 3) first among all God-given rights is the right to life; and 4) God, not human courts or human laws, has created us all equal, whether we have lived 80 years outside our mother’s wombs, or only 80 minutes inside our mother’s womb.
We all know that there are people who would like to “get God out of government.” But, according the Declaration, that is un-American. This, of course, does not mean that we should elect a theocracy. It simply means that Americans should base their electoral decisions on a conscience formed by God’s laws, whether revealed to us in the very nature of man and creation, or revealed to us in our Christian faith. It was commonly understood by the Founding Fathers that religion was not only a fundament human right, but also essential to the success of the American experiment. They believed that the only way America could have a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people, and that religion was essential for this to happen. As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
The Catholic Church teaches that governments have a legitimate autonomy from the Church. But it also teaches, as does the Declaration of Independence, that no government can ever usurp God’s authority by suppressing the rights God has given to the people.
Some basic moral principles are part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,” or what the Declaration of Independence calls “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” These are moral principles that are so basic that any rational human being should be able to figure them out on their own. For example, any rational thinking person should be able to figure out that all men are equal in their rights before God, and that it is always wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.
Unfortunately, all too often we don’t think rationally—we let our passions, like hatred or greed or fear, lead us in our actions. So it’s important for someone, like the Church, to remind us to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Because without that, governments will inevitably enact laws that are contrary to both human reason and the good that our Creator intended: we will be ruled by codified passions, not justice.
There is no right more basic than the right to life, and there is no societal norm more essential to the happiness of society than the family, as nature and nature’s God, establish it: one man and one woman. As Pope Benedict has taught us, “These values are not negotiable.” And these values cannot be promoted or defended without religious liberty.
Therefore, no good American, no good Virginian, no good Catholic can 1) neglect the right and duty to vote, or vote for a candidate who does not actively and unquestionably protect and defend: 2) the right to life of unborn children, 3) the dignity of traditional/natural marriage, and 4) the religious freedom of all Americans.
Some will argue, “but Father, I understand all that…but with the economy the way it is…. I have to vote for a candidate who will fix things.” We must all be sympathetic to the pain, confusion and fear the economy is causing people. But remember what the Founding Fathers wrote in the very last line of the Declaration: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
These men did not place their “fortunes” much less their “lives” ahead of defending God given human rights—why do we think we should? Especially when we read the words of Jesus Himself: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ ….But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
This Tuesday, VOTE! And vote only for men and women who defend the right to life, traditional marriage and the freedom of religion. In short, be a true American, a true Virginian, and a true Catholic.