Bill Ritter came out against Amendment 48 on October 7. But the way he did it actually helps the advocates of the measure.
As Tim Hoover reports for The Denver Post, Ritter said at a rally at the capitol, “I believe the amendment goes too far.” In this line Ritter follows the slogan of the main campaign against the measure, a position that implies some restrictions on abortion, birth control, and fertility treatments would be fine. That line makes those opponents of Amendment 48 look like cowardly hypocrites. That’s why Diana Hsieh and I don’t repeat that line and criticize its use in our paper.
But Ritter’s main problem is that he tried to oppose a faith-based measure while appealing to faith. As Hoover reports, Ritter said, “In spite of the fact that I’m pro-life, I can look at this and really find reasons I think it is just such an extreme position to take… My understanding is that there are things about calling a fertilized egg a person that do not square with church doctrine.”
With this statement, Ritter granted that church doctrine should guide the law. What Ritter should have said is that as governor he has a responsibility to protect the separation of church and state, and Amendment 48 clearly seeks to impose religious dogma by force of law.
Predictably, Hoover’s follow-up article for today carries the headline, “Bishops chide Ritter on view of personhood.” Hoover reports:
The archbishop of Denver on Wednesday publicly scolded Gov. Bill Ritter… for comments he made about whether a fertilized egg is a person.
In a statement given to news outlets, Archbishop Charles Chaput, along with Auxiliary Bishop James Conley, said Ritter’s comments on Amendment 48 “seriously confused” the issue. …
Ritter’s comments about the church’s stance on a fertilized egg are false, the bishops said.
“Catholic teaching holds that human life is sacred from the moment of fertilization, commonly called ‘conception,’ to the moment of natural death,” the bishops wrote in the statement. “Separating a ‘fertilized egg’ from the dignity of human personhood is bad theology and bad public policy.
“And Catholic public officials should know better.”
Catholic bishops should know better than to push around Colorado’s elected officials, who are charged with enacting and executing nonsectarian laws, not imposing Catholic doctrine on the state. But Ritter invited the rebuke by resting the matter on religious faith.
At least Bishops Chaput and Conley have reinforced what was already obvious: Amendment 48 is about religious faith, nothing else. The Catholic church regards a fertilized egg as “sacred,” and that is the end of the argument.
Meanwhile, Kristi Burton, sponsor of the measure, continues her inane defense of it. Hoover reports in his first article:
“The governor’s position directly contradicts the overwhelming modern scientific evidence that now recognizes what we all know in our hearts,” said Kristi Burton, who sponsored Amendment 48, “from the moment of conception, a new unique individual has been created.”
Notice that Burton often throws around claims about “modern scientific evidence,” on the pretense that the measure somehow reaches beyond religious faith. Yet there is no substance whatsoever to her claims about “science,” as Diana and I explain (see pages 11-13 of the paper). To briefly summarize, a “unique individual” fertilized egg is still not a person, as (besides the fact that it is only a microscopic clump of cells) it is wholly contained within and dependent upon the woman’s body.
At least Burton distinguishes between her cart and her horse. Science, allegedly, merely “recognizes what we all know in our hearts” — that is, what her religious faith has already asserted.
As if we needed any more lessons regarding the dangers of pandering to faith-based politics, two letters in the Rocky Mountain News also point to the problem. On September 22, I wrote, “Then Mayo McNeil quotes Genesis and Exodus to ‘refute’ the view that a fertilized egg is a person. Put this in the hefty folder titled, ‘With Friends Like These…'”
Sure enough, on October 8 Mary Lou Fenton replied:
Read further in your Bible and you will find Psalms 139:13-16:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . .
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
This is a very clear pronouncement of a divine creator who gives us life and knows us intimately. An incredible truth that invests each life with meaning, value and purpose.
There can be no doubt: Amendment 48 is a prime example of faith-based politics, the attempt to impose religious dogma by force of law and to criminally prosecute those who violate that dogma.
McNeil made essentially the same mistake that Ritter made. Rather than try to undermine Amendment 48 with his own assertions of religious faith, the governor of Colorado should boldly declare his support for the separation of church and state.