They approach you on the street, or at the library, or any place where people gather, clipboard in hand. “Yes, yes,” I wave them off, “I’m registered to vote.” Leave me alone, I add mentally.
I just discovered why this cadre is so active—did you know that 40 to 50% of Americans don’t vote?
I understand that people wonder, What’s the point? One vote won’t make a difference. But if millions of individuals think this—as evidently they do—then millions of votes are not cast, and that certainly makes a difference.
Voting is more than a privilege, more than a right: it is an obligation. Under the section “Duties of Citizens”, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it is “morally obligatory…to exercise the right to vote” (no. 2240).
It's not just the big races that matter. Electing the senators and congressmen who make our laws and good judges for our community is also of vital importance. (Nowadays it is chiefly through the courts that anti-Christian organizations have succeeded in eroding the Judeo-Christian foundations of our society.) Moreover, there are often critical issues and propositions that demand our getting out to vote.
Even if you don’t like either candidate, it’s still worthwhile to go to the polls. In this presidential election, the stakes are too high to stay home.
Many people (especially Catholics) claim to be “personally opposed” to abortion, but feel that they cannot “impose” their morality on others. (Though we impose our morality on thieves, abusers, etc.) They also point to other issues in which they feel that Obama has the higher moral ground than Romney, and speak of the importance of those issues as well as the relative powerlessness of a president to put an end to abortion.
At the other end of the spectrum, some pro-lifers feel that in conscience they cannot vote for Romney because he’s not pro-life enough (he makes an exception for cases of rape and incest).
For both these groups, some enlightenment might be helpful regarding (A) the hierarchy of issues, (B) what cooperation in immoral civic matters is and is not morally permissible, and (C) what the President can do.
The Inequality of Issues
While the human dignity of each person is equal, the importance of each issue is not. The economy, poverty, immigration, even national defense—while all important issues—are simply not as important as the issue of life itself.
As the bishop of my diocese puts it, "we need to ... recognize that these issues [that enhance human life] only matter if human life itself is a value of fundamental priority and is always protected. If human life is expendable, then these other issues really lose much of their significance.”
He goes on to point out that people of good will can disagree about how the lesser issues are handled, whereas there is only one morally licit stance on the non-negotiable issues.
As Christians we must not cooperate with intrinsic evils: “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ... vote for it."
Because we elect those who write the laws, this means we have to take their stance on such issues into consideration when deciding which candidate we'll vote for. “Citizens support these evils indirectly if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them.”
Sometimes, though, there's no thoroughly moral choice. In such cases, the Magisterium teaches that a legislator "whose personal absolute opposition to these programmes or laws is clear and known to all, may legitimately support proposals aimed at limiting the damage caused by such programmes or laws.”
Thus when both or all candidates for an office support an intrinsic evil such as abortion, "citizens must vote in the way that will most limit the harm that would be done by the available candidates.”
In this presidential election, however, the difference between the two candidates with regard to abortion is vast. (See for instance, "Obama vs. Romney--The Choice Is Clear".) While Romney makes a small (but regrettable) exception, he is otherwise pro-life; Obama’s political record, on the other hand, shows him to be the most pro-abortion president in American history.
What Difference Can the President Make?
True, the President can’t overturn Roe v. Wade himself, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an impact on abortion.
Whoever wins on Tuesday will most likely appoint at least one justice to the Supreme Court, and perhaps as many as three or even four justices during his term. This is huge. The next President will probably have an enormous impact on the composition of the Court for many years. This not only will affect abortion but also religious freedom and other important matters.
The President also increases or decreases the number of abortions not only in America but also in other countries by his stance on the Mexico City Policy, the Hyde Amendment, federal support of Planned Parenthood, and U.N. proposals.
Terrible as any deaths of soldiers or civilians in war are, they do not outweigh the deaths of the totally defenseless—the unborn—whose numbers are staggering. In the U.S., over 55,000,000 babies have been aborted since Roe. More Americans were killed in abortion clinics in the year 2003 alone than in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars combined.
The next president will also play a significant role in both the arenas of religious freedom and gay marriage. Government sanctioning of homosexual partnerships has led to religious persecution in several countries, including Canada. Putting these relationships on a legal par with marriage results in the push to give them equal status in the classroom and the public forum. Those who preach the biblical teachings on the matter from the pulpit have been arrested for hate speech. Our own religious liberties are already shrinking (see The Criminalization of Christianity for many examples.); another Obama term will surely shrink them further.
The importance of tomorrow's election can hardly be overstated. We each have been entrusted with a single vote, like the servant given a single talent in the parable. Spend it well, for each of us will have to give an account for it.
Statement from Bishop Richard Lennon regarding Faithful Citizenship and Voting.