Marian Finucane interviewed Katie Ascough on her Saturday radio programme last weekend. The discussion focused on Ascough’s recent impeachment as president of the UCD Students’ Union.
The central issue in that impeachment was the fact that Ascough withdrew from circulation a booklet for first year students. She did so having been advised by the Students’ Union’s lawyer that it contained abortion information and was illegal under an Act of 1995. She decided to follow that advice. Had she done otherwise, she would have been risking a criminal conviction and fines for the Union and herself.
Under any normal circumstances, this would be regarded as the obvious and correct thing to do. But there was a problem. Ascough is pro-life and when you are pro-life, following the law is just a disguise for bigotry – or at least this is what many students of UCD who voted to impeach her seem to think.
Earlier in the week, the UCD student who had led the campaign for Ascough’s impeachment was interviewed for a news item on EWTN. In it she stated: “if you’re going for a political position…. then you sign up to do that job and you leave your views at the door if there is conflict.”
In the case of UCD, a rather extreme version of the “leave your views at the door” doctrine is in force. One in which deciding not to break the laws of the land is a matter of one’s personal viewpoint.
However, in one form or another, the same criticism is frequently made whenever anyone in public life puts forward a policy or suggestion informed by Christian thinking.
There are two possible reasons for this approach: the first is that we don’t mind electing Christians to public office so long as they don’t preach what they practice. The second – which I think is the more accurate – is that we would rather that Christians stay out of public life entirely. After all, the “leave your views at the door” demand never applies to those whose views happen to correspond to mainstream or even radically progressive political thinking (and it is increasingly difficult to separate the two).
To illustrate the point, how likely is it that anyone would say the following?
“When you are elected to this office, don’t go trying to impose your feminist views on anyone. You must leave them at the door – better still at home where they belong. You mustn’t let your personal views have any impact whatsoever on your work. Views on feminism are a private matter and personal to you. Your views are not representative, given half the population is male. Therefore you have no business seeking to impose them on anyone else. Feminism does not belong in the public sphere, but in the private.”
And yet that is precisely what politicians are told and expected to do if they are pro-life or Catholic or have any view outside the current liberal orthodoxy and worldview.
By contrast, in reality, a feminist is applauded for the progressiveness of allowing policy to be animated and informed by feminist theory, and indeed for unashamedly demanding it, where it is in conflict with the status quo.
There is no recognition of this double standard in public life or debate by those who call themselves liberal and tolerant, but who will not tolerate an alternative viewpoint. Nor will they accept diversity if that happens to mean actual diversity of opinion, rather than diversity of skin colour, sex or socio-economic status. While the same people are quick to call out as hypocrites those Christians who fall short of their espoused beliefs, they are happy to ignore the hypocrisy of their own position in this regard.
At the end of the day, secularism, which underlies much of the “leave your beliefs at the door” thinking, is itself a form of belief system, and many of its adherents are just as zealous – if not more so – than the religious person. This is a one-way street only and if you happen to be Christian, you are driving the wrong way.
Secularists always try to present policy informed by Christian thinking as an attempt to impose one’s views on others. What this misses is the fact that, in a democracy, everyone involved in the political process is trying to convince the public that their view on a particular issue is better than the alternatives. It is also precisely what secularists try to do all the time. Christians are not trying to impose anything on anybody. They are simply trying to win the battle of ideas, like everyone else.
Nowhere is this battle more acute than in relation to the imminent referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, in which Christians, it is to be hoped, can be expected to, and it is to be hoped, will be allowed to, propose to the public that we are dealing with two lives in pregnancy, not just one. And if they are right – as scientific and technological advances have made it so plainly clear that they are – then the question arises: in seeking to change the law so that it allows the destruction of an entirely innocent life, whose is the life on which other people’s views are being imposed?