During these past recent months religion has been at the center of the political conversation in the Republican 2012 primary and on Capitol Hill. The GOP candidates have been thumping across the country jousting for the title of most religiously conservative. In Washington, my Republican Colleagues have attempted to use religion as another weapon in their assault on President Obama’s legislative agenda. Some have gone as far as to accuse the President of being at war against religion.
In my over 40 years in office I have never seen such heightened partisanship and blatant disrespect for the Office of the Presidency that exist today. Republicans have recently attacked the President’s decision not to exempt all religious employers from a federal requirement that healthcare plans cover contraception services as part of the Affordable Care Act. They are calling it an "attack on religious freedom." However such actions by the President are strictly based on protecting Americans' right to protect their personal health without regards to or infringement upon anyone's personal beliefs. We can look to the First Amendment of our Constitution which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Despite separation of Church and State, we cannot deny the fundamental role religion has had on the course of our nation’s history through the beliefs of our citizens and elected officials. As a nation founded on the principle of religious freedom we must remain true to the underlying tenets of all faiths: compassion, caring for our most vulnerable and how we treat thy neighbor. In Matthew, the Bible reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the “least among us.” The Qur'an tells us that we cannot truly be righteous unless we “give [freely] of that which you love; and whatever you give, Allah knows it well.” These same teachings can be found in the words enshrined for eternity on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” that have introduced the world to our great nation for over a century.
How we care for others - especially the lesser among us - has always been true in both our religious and national principles. America’s morality towards her own has in the past been one of our greatest traits that made us the 'city upon the hill'; but as we now face social, economic and political adversity, that image has been fading.
As we rebuild our economy and address the national debt, we must not forget our moral obligation as Members of Congress, God-fearing or not. The 15% of Americans living in poverty need our compassion and rely on programs such as Medicaid. Our seniors call for compassion as many rely on Medicare and Social Security to live with dignity. The hard working middle-class also looks for compassion in doing what is right; they want jobs, equal opportunity to succeed, and to live in a country where everyone pays his or her fair share.
If we are to bring our religion with us onto the floor of Congress, or within the columns of the White House, let us carry it in our hearts and not in our back pockets to be used as a political wedge.