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Redefining "Values"

November 9, 2004
By Tim Keane

Born-again Christians did indeed have a huge and probably deciding role in electing George Bush to a second term, and as a result we may have as many as four conservative appointments to the Supreme Court during the next four years; the first may be only weeks or months away.

This provides an enormous opportunity for Democrats to redefine the "Values" issue and stop the born-again conservative movement from trying to rewrite history by stating that this country was founded on Christian values.

You see, this is the United States of America, and its values were established by the great men who founded this incredibly progressive nation. This country was founded on a whole new set of values never seen before - it was founded on American Values.

While many of the Founding Fathers were indeed of Christian faith, they understood that separation of church and state was critical to ensuring the freedoms of the citizens of this new and hopeful nation - so critical that it is included as part of the first of our American Values: the First Amendment.

Regarding the combination of government and religion Thomas Jefferson went so far as to say:

I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature... Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make half the world fools and half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the world.

That being said, religion does play an important role in the lives of most Americans, as do values. I grew up in a liberal Catholic family that aspires to be closer to God through the teachings of Christ. Charity, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness are among the highest ideals I learned from my Church, and my still-liberal, still-married parents.

The born-again Christians, though, believe that I will burn in Hell because I do not worship as they do.

I must respectfully disagree. The great American Value that provides each and every one of us with the right to worship as we choose, has helped to foster one of the most beautiful and powerful forces that has defined this country - the diversity of its people.

Also central to our American Values are freedom of expression and equal protection under the law. These values, like all American Values, are the values of all of us, the values of this great nation. American Values are not reserved for people of a particular faith, race, sex or sexual orientation.

American Values are what define this country, not born-again Christian values. And these values are far from being void of morality. On the contrary, American Values are amongst the most moral ideals to which people of this world have ever aspired.

I know many moderate Republicans that voted for Bill Clinton because of his economic policy and voted for George Bush because of security issues. These same moderates find the born-again conservative agenda of their party troubling.

I believe that if Democrats redefine the "Values" debate in their opposition to the impending conservative Supreme Court nominations, and do it in a constructive and inspirational way, they will take firm hold of the moral high ground in this country and recapture a wide swath of the middle of the political spectrum.

Finally, I would like to remind Mr. Keating that our American Values as framed by visionary men over 200 years ago, in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, valued individual freedom and responsibility above all else. Among these American Values was, and still is, a firm belief that each individual is capable and entitled to make moral decisions for themselves based on their own faith and conscience.

Tim Keane, a former environmental planner and Assoc. Prof. of Geographic Information Systems, is a software development manager for the city of New York.

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