28 August 2003

"Imposing" versus "proposing" in the public square

Mary Ann Glendon makes a point similar to Hoy's in her article, "The Women of Roe v. Wade," published in the June/July 2003 issue of First Things:

I remember asking the former dean of Boston College, a Jesuit priest, “Father, what do you think about this abortion issue?” He said, “Well you see, Mary Ann, it’s very simple. According to Vatican II, abortion is ‘an unspeakable moral crime.’ But in a pluralistic democracy, we can’t impose our moral views on other people.” “Oh,” I said, “OK.”

I know this story doesn’t reflect any credit on me, but I mention it to show that many of us just didn’t focus on the issue all that closely. I know now that I should have questioned the word “impose.” But it took some time before growing numbers of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews stepped forward to point out that when people advance their moral viewpoints in the public square, they are not imposing anything on anyone. They are proposing. That’s what citizens do in a democracy — we propose, we give reasons, we vote. It’s a very strange doctrine that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints. And it’s very unhealthy for democracy when the courts — without clear constitutional warrant — deprive citizens of the opportunity to have a say in setting the conditions under which we live, work, and raise our children.

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