BY AIMEE BEDOY
I have a suggestion for the various organizations of the pro-life and pro-peace world. They are based purely on observation, and in that regard they are empirical and of course they are not scientific or statistical studies. But I want to tell you an amalgamation of stories, and then lessons I have learned from working with young people in the world today.
The March for Life is seen as the pinnacle of the pro-life year. It is probably the largest event of its kind in the world, and in that respect the mobilization effort is astounding. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the United States capitol for a protest of massive proportions. This, in and of itself, is amazing and commendable.
But as I learned last year at the Students for Life of America Conference, the March for Life was begun by Catholic Democrats who were angered, dissatisfied and put out by the Roe v. Wade decision and the legalization of abortion in the United States. In a way it shocked me, because both the conference and the March seem now to be dominated by Republican and conservative rhetoric and politics; yet in another way I was totally unsurprised. It did not shock me that Catholics were the ones to make the first headway into the movement -- in fact, the Catholic Church has been steadfast in the stance against abortion and it has never swayed on this matter. The thing that perhaps began to irk me was that there has since been little change in the demographics of the movement as a whole, and anyone who is not a conservative with a Catholic or Christian affiliation is made to feel like the outsider. In some respects, it is to be expected: conservatives have, as part of their party platform, included opposition to abortion; and likewise, Catholics, as part of Church teaching, are opposed to abortion. These two groups may be the only ones that consistently demonstrate a pro-life stance. And yet, to ignore those outside these groups and to argue on the basis of religion or political party is exactly what is alienating those members of "fringe" groups.
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I have friends who are staunchly pro-life, consistent life, and have taken part in discussions, clubs at their various schools, or in other manners of activism. And in the last year, I have seen many of these young people fall away from some of the most effective events of the pro-life year. Not only are these young people refusing to return to the Students for Life of America Conference, they do not desire to return to the March for Life. They have stated to me again and again, "I was uncomfortable . . . ", "I didn't feel like I was wanted there because I'm not Catholic . . . ", "I don't understand: do they not want Democrats or LGBTQ people?" It hurts my heart because I do have such an immense compassion for all people, and while religion and our political beliefs are very important and indispensable parts of each of our lives, we must understand that the arguments which relate to other issues belong in debates and activism for those other issues.
There is not one particular religious belief for this country, and there is good reason for there to be a solid separation of Church and State. Our State should not be run by our Churches, nor our Churches run by our State (though this argument is for another time, and perhaps for a different publication). I believe this to be elementary common sense because, in fact, we do not all believe the same thing and we all beautifully hold the gift of free will in the matter. You cannot, therefore, base the argument against abortion -- or any other violence, for that matter -- upon the very comfortable seat of religion. We have a freedom of belief in this country that does not dictate that each and every person be a Christian, and as our youth come into their own and delineate their own views, studies find that our generation is more secular than ever before. We have already alienated far too many youth who don't feel their support is valuable or wanted simply because they do not fall into the same realm of belief. And furthermore, our laws should not be dictated by one creed or faith, and our justification for moral law should be able to justly stand outside of religion and be thoroughly complete.
The argument for human dignity is one that can stand strong on its own, without religion as a "crutch." If we spend all of our energy learning how to lean on religious arguments, we run the risk of being crippled when faced with a secular individual. The things I often hear, such as "God loves your baby," and "God created them with a purpose," are nice sentiments -- and while perhaps true, are appeals to emotion -- pathos in the strongest sense. To argue further in a religious vein with a person who does not believe in God may have a number of desired effects, but the outcome that I see most often is that individuals who do not belong to the same faith will shut you out and no longer pay attention: they do not believe those points are valid or worth listening to. Religious arguments, I would posit, belong in a religious setting. But our government is not one based on religion; our capitol is not the place to bring religion and expect it to be the reasoning for change. So we need to find a middle ground, and I'm having a difficult time figuring out exactly what that is. But I'm asking you to help me make changes in the movement, for twofold reasoning: so we do not exclude those who do not fall into the small category of Catholic and Republican, and so we can establish law in our country that is lasting, based on sound ethical theory, and which will, without a doubt, apply to people of all beliefs.
So perhaps I am making an appeal to those in power in this cause: Open the doors of the pro-life movement, of the pro-peace movement, without barriers or rood screens. We are not asking that you abandon your religion or cease to believe in your faith or your politics. But we cannot afford to alienate youth who would be a great boon to the cause of life and peace. We stand much stronger together than we do apart, and we must act as though the lives of our children and grandchildren depend upon it -- because, indeed, they do. And our law cannot stand alone on religious rhetoric -- in the end, life is a human rights issue, not a religious one. People from every belief, whether Catholic, Buddhist, Mormon, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic; whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian; whether straight or LGBT; whether a student or a professional or a stay-at-home parent: we should all be able to stand together, to make a stand for life and to work together on this, the most important issue of our time. We must be allies in the culture war -- to stand up for human life and dignity, regardless of creed, politics, lifestyle, or career. We have this responsibility to our fellow man, to stand up for his right to life -- let us not fail.