With the Democratic presidential selection process about to begin at the Iowa caucuses, I’d like to reflect on some very alarming signs that have already shown up in the campaign. Two events of the past week are my point of departure.  

The first event was a tweet sent out by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is generally considered at this point to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Biden is often called a “moderate” by the media. It is difficult to see the factual basis for that evaluation, since he has been consistently liberal throughout his political career. To consider him a moderate is an indication of how the Democratic Party has shifted markedly to the left in recent years (much as the Republicans have shifted to the right) and how extreme some of his fellow candidates are. His tweet gives a clear indication of just how far his party has gone:

“Let’s be clear: Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time. There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.”

I’ve written before about the absurdity of gender ideology, namely the idea is that gender is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective feelings of an individual. I’ve also written about the totalitarian impulses of gender rights activists, who are trying to use the legal system to impose their views on everyone else and stamp out any dissent.

But to hear from a presidential candidate that there can be “no room for compromise” on this issue is frightening, especially given the power of the modern Administrative State to infringe on personal liberty. Under his administration (and presumably of any other Democratic candidate) will there be no accommodation for the religious views of churches? No concern for the rights of parents to raise their children according to their values? No protection for people who do not wish to be forced to say things (like “affirming” someone’s gender identity) that they believe to be untrue? No regard for the legitimate privacy rights of boys and girls when their in areas like locker rooms or bathrooms? No place for biological truth? This is insane.

Our Church has steadfastly upheld religious freedom as a fundamental human right. No government has the right to coerce people to act against their faith. Any government that does so has violated the basic social contract with its citizens and forfeited its legitimacy. George Washington himself showed how valuable religious freedom is to our national identity:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island

The second event was a question put to candidate Pete Buttigieg at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Remember that the official position of the Democratic Party is to support legalized abortion up to the moment of birth and to repeal the federal law that limits taxpayer funding for abortion. So he was asked if there was any room in the party for people who are pro-life. The candidate – who is also labeled as a “moderate” by the media – bumbled around a bit in trying to evade the question. But in the end he expressed his unconditionally support for the position of the party and for the idea that there should be no limits on a woman’s decision to abort her baby. That means abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy, with no legal restrictions, with full taxpayer funding.  

That’s the same position as the extremist abortion expansion bill passed here in New York last year – no limitations on abortion at all. So, is there no place for the 62% of Democrats who want some limitations on abortion? Or the 49% who would ban abortion after the first three months? Apparently not, and it seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

So clearly there is a grave problem for Catholics who abhor abortion and fear for their religious liberty, but might be sympathetic to other policy positions favored by the Democratic presidential candidates. Our bishops have consistently taught us that abortion is an intrinsic and grave evil that “must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned.” (Faithful Citizenship, 22)  Pope St. John Paul wrote:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection… 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 take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it.

Evangelium Vitae, 73

The Church says I can only vote for a candidate who favors intrinsically evil laws  for “truly grave moral reasons”. (Faithful Citizenship, 35) I find it impossible to see any other issue – or combination of issues – that would provide sufficiently “grave moral reasons” to vote for a candidate who favors the violation of religious liberty by the uncompromising imposition of gender ideology, or who accepts a legal regime where unborn children can be killed with impunity. And I believe that most pro-lifers agree.

This is what has driven so many pro-lifers and Catholics into the camp of the President, despite his manifest character flaws and his lack of respect for human dignity in some of his statements and policies. The reality is that his Administration has many fine people, has done many good things for our cause, and has appointed judges who are likely to uphold authentic constitutional rights. The President actually came to the March for Life, and his remarks were well done, particularly his announcement of the enforcement of key religious liberty laws.  This was an unprecedented showing of support for the pro-life cause. All of that is to the good and I’m grateful for it.

So I understand people who will vote for the re-election of the President as the result of a pragmatic calculation – voting for the flawed candidate because of the positive things he has done and to prevent the damage that would be done by extremists. But what is the price? Many people are concerned that the pro-life movement will be harmed in the long run by close association with and enthusiastic support for such a flawed and polarizing person. I share these concerns.

The bottom line is that we as Catholics are called to vote with a properly formed Catholic conscience. This means weighing the issues in terms of what the Church teaches and how our ability to lives as Christians will be impacted. Making this decision about voting thus involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office. There is a much deeper question in play – will we live according to God’s standards or man’s?  And it is a question of who I am – a man of God and follower of Christ, or a man of the world?

My favorite saint is Joan of Arc. Her guiding principle was always to do God’s will, even when human wisdom and the powerful people of her time thought it was folly, and preferred to rely on their own machinations. I pray to her that we may have the strength and wisdom to follow her example as we face our election decisions this year and always.

(What I say here reflects my personal views only, and does not in any way represent the position of the Archdiocese of New York. I am not endorsing or un-endorsing any candidate or party. I’m just sharing my thoughts.)