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Why I shall spoil my ballot

Yes, I am still an American citizen, waiting these many years for permanent-resident status as a step toward Philippine citizenship. I follow American political developments, although not as closely as those of my adopted country.

Yes, I have a ballot for the upcoming US presidential election, and I shall send it. However, it will not be counted, as I shall deliberately spoil it.


First, there is no way in which I could vote for the Republican Party of today. Its lack of concern for the poor in a society in which income differentials have become obscene turns me off completely. As does the systematic opposition and obstructionism of its people in Congress and the Senate throughout the Obama administration. If my home state, New Jersey, were in danger of giving its electoral votes to the Republicans, I would feel constrained to vote for the Democrats. However, Jersey seems safely in the Democratic camp, and so I have greater freedom.

I am not happy with the Democratic Party either. I object strongly to its support for “abortion rights.” As Abraham Lincoln said of slavery, “If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.” However, for human law to be effective it must be rooted in the values of society, and the values of American society have deteriorated badly. One sees new “rights” being discovered almost daily for various groups and even animals, but none for the unborn child. The battle for the unborn is best fought not in the din of presidential debates but in the quiet formation of a public conscience which can induce more state legislatures to limit “abortion rights.” Abortion is not for me a decisive issue in casting my ballot for the US presidency in 2012.

What disturbs me more is the tendency, which I associate more with the Democratic than with the Republican mentality, to move from a type of secular society which I would characterize as “neutral-for” religion and religious institutions to one which is “neutral-against” them. By this I mean one in which—often by court or administrative-body decision—government, government financing, and even public space must not touch religion “even with a 10-foot pole,” and religion is pushed back into the sacristy and the privacy of the home and the individual conscience. Let me illustrate this.

It is pretty well established now that Christmas belen, or Nativity scenes, must not be set up on public property. The same goes for the Ten Commandments, which cannot be displayed in public schools. Prayers in public schools and over the public address system at their football games are also out, and issues have been raised about opening prayers at city council meetings. The latest “tempest in a teapot” centers on a small town in Texas where a school board ruling forbade football cheerleaders to display verses from the Bible on the field—a prohibition supported editorially by the prestigious New York Times. Will Americans reach the point at which Manny Pacquiao is forbidden to make the sign of the cross as he enters the ring in Las Vegas, or imitate the French in prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing head veils to school? In the name of religious freedom?

More significant are the growing demands that religious institutions, especially those which receive government funding, conform to the ethical standards of the wider society. The Catholic dioceses in the state of Illinois have closed down the child adoption programs which they pioneered and which were highly respected, rather than accede to the state’s demand that they consider same-sex couples for foster parenthood on the same basis as other couples—even though they were willing to refer such couples to other agencies.

Similarly, the US Department of Health and Human Services rescinded a contract with Catholic Relief Services for what was recognized as a superior program for trafficked women because CRS refused to provide abortion services for the women.

Awareness of this tendency seems to have moved Pope Benedict XVI, who had previously expressed appreciation for the American system of government, to emphasize the need for “the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.” He went on to warn American bishops of “the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres,” which would oblige Catholic institutions and individuals to cooperate in practices that they regard as immoral.

Considerations such as these probably lay behind the decision of the American bishops to “draw a line in the sand” with regard to the provision of the “Obamacare” health program obliging institutions to buy health insurance for their employees—insurance, which covers the cost of contraception, sterilization, and pills that induce abortion. Personally, I would believe that the “cooperation in evil” involved here is rather remote and in itself could be allowed, but I can also see the reason for finally drawing a line. And I shall back them up, at least to the extent of spoiling my ballot.

Are we faced by the same problem in the Philippines? Perhaps not yet, but the original provision in the Reproductive Health bill—since modified—obliging private schools to follow Department of Education modules on sex education could well be a straw in the wind.

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