A certain sort of politician is most annoying when he stands up straight, squares his shoulders, looks out into the distance, and starts lecturing his critics on the separation of church and state and declaring, with the tone of a man giving up a fortune to keep his integrity, that he cannot and will not Impose His Values Upon Others. He is far less a defender of American pluralism than he is a man profoundly ignorant of his calling as a legislator, and a man promoting an intellectual confusion destructive of our common life.
“I don’t tell church officials what to do, and church officials shouldn’t tell American politicians what to do in the context of our public life,” John Kerry told Time magazine earlier this year. Of course, one notes with a sigh, Mr. Kerry was in that very statement telling church officials what to do: specifically, to stay out of politics, to treat religion as a private matter with no place and no value in public affairs. One does not hear him telling the unions to stay out of politics, or the newspapers, or the American Civil Liberties Union, or the activist groups, or, for that matter, the Catholic bishops when they support social welfare legislation.
Only the church, and in fact only the church when it speaks against the laws and policies required by sexual liberationism, is denied the right to speak for its principles in our political life, for reasons Kerry has never explained. Behind his assertion is, as far as one can tell, no coherent idea of the nature of principle in public affairs.
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David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.
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