This is the first in a two-part series of columns on the 2012 party platforms. The second part, addressing the Democratic Party platform, will appear here on Justia’s Verdict shortly . –Ed.
Before the 2012 Republican Convention, there was persistent debate about a “gender gap” between the parties, with the Republicans being painted as anti-women’s rights. The Republicans then dutifully rounded up a few women to speak at the convention, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who gave one of the most well-phrased and intelligent speeches of the Convention. To know where a Party actually stands, though, it takes more than listening to a few speeches from either gender.
As readers know well, each Party memorializes its policies in a Platform, which is then approved by the Delegates at the Convention and distributed. A recent poll by the Pew Research Foundation indicates that Americans are more interested in the Platforms than the speeches—and, indeed, they should be.
Why? Because the Platforms are the best evidence of the political tradeoffs that were made, at the highest levels of the Party, behind closed doors. The 2012 Republican Platform indicates that religious leaders are pulling strings and making demands no President of the entire, diverse people of the United States should embrace.
In this first column in a two-part series, I will analyze certain elements of the Republican Party platform that are inextricably related to each other: the policies relating to religion, women, and children. In my next column, appearing in two weeks’ time, I will focus on the same issues as they appear in the Democratic Platform. There are stark differences between the Republicans’ and Democrats’ platforms that well-informed voters ought to note.
The Role of Religion in the Republican Party Platform
A Platform paints a picture of a Party’s worldview, and in the case of the 2012 Republican Party, that worldview has been constructed upon Roman Catholic and evangelical theology—which, not surprisingly, are closely aligned with the Mormon Church’s views on abortion, and on the role of women in society. As someone who analyzes these issues on a routine basis, even I was surprised at how frankly the Republican Platform pursues particular religious ideals and ends.
I probably should not have been as surprised as I was, however, at the religious tone of the Platform—especially after learning that Cardinal Timothy Dolan would be providing a prayer for the gathering. And most especially, after hearing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s well-received Convention speech, which included the lines: “almighty God is the source of all we have,” and, “Our national motto is ‘In God we Trust,’ reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.”
But I was surprised, nonetheless, because I naively thought that the Republicans wanted to win this election, and were aware that over half of the population is female and extremely religiously diverse.
According to the religion-soaked Platform document, there is an ongoing “war on religion” that is being waged by the Obama Administration “to compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion.”
The health services and abortion part comes right out of the Catholic bishops’ playbook; the bishops, as readers will recall, have mounted a campaign on behalf of universities and other institutions, in order to avoid having to provide reproductive services like abortion and contraception through health insurance to non-believers whom they employ.
The Attempt to Claim That Gay Rights Activists, Not Their Opponents, Are the Real Haters
I’m a little puzzled by the Platform’s claim that some have been compelled to contravene their beliefs on “traditional marriage.” Are there heterosexuals who are being rounded up and forced to enter into gay marriages? Are gay couples discriminating against heterosexual couples? Is there discussion of banning so-called “traditional marriage” in the future? And no federal law has forced a priest to perform a same-sex marriage, at least to my knowledge.
I think that this point in the Platform is related to this later statement: “We condemn the hate campaigns, threats of violence, and vandalism by proponents of same-sex marriage against advocates of traditional marriage and call for a federal investigation into attempts to deny religious believers their civil rights.” Now, is this an attempt to paint gay marriage advocates as the “haters,” as opposed to those who would deny them the right to wed? Sorry for all the questions, but when one first reads some of the Platform’s lines, one feels compelled to go back onto the website, and make sure one is not actually reading a satire.
The Platform’s Extreme Views on the Role of Religion, and Its Suggestion That One Can Legitimately Impose One’s Religion on Others When It Comes to Medical Care
The Platform’s religious positions and rhetoric are extreme, including, “We assert every citizen’s right to apply religious value to public policy,” which apparently means that religious values should trump public policy, and that religious believers should be able to carve out exceptions to laws with which they disagree. This is an inherently divisive approach to public policy that cannot unite Americans.
But the most extreme statement in the Platform would permit health care providers, including pharmacists, to refuse to provide any “medical service” according to their personal beliefs.
More specifically, the Platform states: “No health care professional or organization should ever be required to perform, provide for, withhold, or refer for a medical service against their conscience.” On its face, this would mean that medical professionals could pick and choose what treatments and services to provide to patients based on the professionals’ own religious beliefs, whatever they happen to be, and apparently, regardless of the health needs of the patient. Notably, this statement is not limited to abortion, or even contraception. It applies to every single medical need a patient might have.
Medical professionals are, indeed, professionals. They have an obligation to heal their patients using the best of medical science and according to the patients’ health needs. When care is dictated by belief rather than science, you can guarantee that the wellbeing of patients will be sacrificed. This position alone places Republicans on the fringe of common sense, not to mention medical ethics.
The Platform does qualify this radical view, but it does so with the following, bewildering statement: “We do not believe, however, that healthcare providers should be allowed to withhold services because the healthcare provider believes the patient’s life is not worth living.” This line came from the smokiest of the smoke-filled rooms. I encourage others to translate it into English.
Under the Republican Platform, Federal Money Can Go to Religious Organizations, but the Organizations Cannot Be Subject to Federal Hiring Rules
The 2012 Republican Platform also endorses federal money’s being paid directly to religious organizations. Yet it opposes publicly funded faith-based organizations being subjected to “government-imposed hiring practices.” In other words, the Republican Platform wants religious organizations to be permitted to discriminate on the basis of faith in hiring, even though they are receiving government funds.
Thus, if a Baptist organization is taking government funds in order to treat teen drug addiction, then it should be able to hire a Baptist counselor—even if a Jewish counselor is better educated and qualified to treat the problem. It seems like a waste of government money to me, but for this era’s Republican powers-that-be, God demands it and, therefore, they must deliver it.
The 2012 Republican Platform also goes where no public debate has recently gone, as it supports the public display of the Ten Commandments, and the recitation of prayers, at public school events (think football games and graduations). Put another way, the Platform seeks to have key Supreme Court decisions enforcing the Establishment Clause reversed.
The Party had also been pleased with the current Court’s forays into this field, praising the recent Supreme Court decision, Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, which upheld the right of religious organizations to discriminate against clergy based on disability, gender, and race, among other categories.
Women’s and Children’s Rights in the Republican Party Platform
Finally, and importantly, the 2012 Republican Platform does not recognize a woman’s right to control her body, nor does it recognize reproductive rights generally, nor does it even recognize women’s right to equality. I found this last omission a little surprising, because of the gender-gap debate.
It should be no surprise to anyone that this Platform opposes abortion, contraception, and embryonic stem cell research; endorses withholding funds from organizations that perform abortion (i.e., Planned Parenthood); and favors the widely-discredited “abstinence” approach to sex education.
On a side note, too, the Platform further tracks the Catholic position opposing “withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm.” The Catholic bishops’ opposition to withholding water and nutrition from the elderly when they are near death has not received the same publicity as their position on abortion, but it is a tenet that is observed in Catholic hospitals across the country, and one that has likely surprised many Republicans who have had to deal with dying parents, and have made choices that were not dictated by Roman Catholic theology.
The Platform Seeks New Rights for the Unborn, At the Expense of Women’s Rights
The Republicans who crafted the Platform also want to create new constitutional rights for the “unborn,” i.e., fetuses.
More specifically, the Platform would create “a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed” and “endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
A fundamental right that cannot be infringed would be a huge alteration in current constitutional doctrine, in several respects:
First, the fetus would obtain a constitutional right that could compete with the mother’s right to life and health.
Second, in the entire Constitution, there are no other absolute rights, other than the right to believe. For a fetus to have a right that “cannot be infringed,” would elevate its life above the mother’s life and health, dramatically.
There is also a serious constitutional disconnect in the notion that legislation can “make clear” what the Fourteenth Amendment stands for. Congress does not interpret the Constitution in the last instance; the Supreme Court does. And it is abundantly clear that, under Court doctrine, the Fourteenth Amendment does not include a fundamental right for fetuses.
A Platform That Women Should Not Only Oppose, but Actually Fear
These are moves that would, if enacted into law, not only further undermine a woman’s right to control her body, but also introduce opportunities for the radical right to criminalize reproductive decisions by women. If women were not fearful of the Republican Party before the Convention and Platform, they surely should be now.
Granted, there are some salutary moments for children in the Platform, which rightly urges “active prosecution against child pornography” and human trafficking. But even this statement is in some tension with the suggestion, elsewhere in the Platform, that federal criminal law should be drastically reduced to reach only “acts by federal employees or acts committed on federal property—and leave the rest to the States….” Under this reasoning, federal kidnapping and the Mann Act, which bars taking children across state lines for sex, would be repealed. But this suggested wholesale rollback in federal criminal jurisdiction is so ridiculous that it simply cannot be taken seriously.
The Party does, rightly, endorse background checks for “[a]ll personnel who interact with school children.” Note, though, that the Party does not mention clergy or football or basketball coaches, despite daily headlines over the last year involving both priests and coaches like Jerry Sandusky abusing children in their care. Nor does the Platform take a position on how the federal government can assist the states in redressing the scourge of childhood sexual abuse.
All in all, this is a Platform that should make women pause. It certainly seems not to take seriously the gender gap that many assumed the Party would want to bridge.