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Testimony to Democratic and Republican Platform Committees

Testimony Presented by the Director of the USCC Government Liaison Office
on Behalf of the Bishops of the United States

May 10, 1988

1. The Catholic community is deeply involved in the life of this country. We are working to meet the spiritual, pastoral, and educational needs of millions of people. We also feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the elderly and the immigrant. Through our recent pastoral letters on nuclear arms and economic justice and advocacy on behalf of the unborn and the poor, we seek to contribute to a broad national debate on the values and visions that ought to guide our nation in the years ahead.

2. We join in the public debate not to impose some sectarian doctrine, but to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and to voice our hope that our nation might be an effective force for true justice and genuine peace in our own country and around the world.

3. We believe our nation is enriched, our traditions of pluralism enhanced, when religious and other groups share their convictions about how our nation can best achieve our national goals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

4. Last November the Administrative Board of the U.S. Catholic Conference said in its statement Political Responsibility: Choices for the 1980s:

We bishops specifically do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc; nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We do, however, have a right and a responsibility as teachers to analyze the moral dimensions of the issues of our day.

We hope that voters will examine the positions of candidates on the full range of issues as well as their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which we address all issues in the political arena.

5. Although we come before you today to share our views on a wide variety of issues, we come with a single message. We urge you to measure every policy and proposal before you for how it touches the human person and whether it enhances or diminishes human life, human dignity, and human rights.

Abortion and the Right to Life

6. A legal system that permits the destruction of unborn human beings by abortion contradicts the principle that human rights are inherent and inalienable. Thus, the 1973 Supreme Court decisions on abortion and subsequent decisions which rely on them must be reversed, and society's resources should be redirected to solving the problems for which abortion is mistakenly proposed as a solution. Especially for our nation's young people, those resources should be placed at the service of efforts to reduce the premature sexual activity that leads to high unintended pregnancy rates as well as other adverse consequences.

7. Unless there is action by the Supreme Court, restoration of legal protection of the lives of the unborn will require an amendment to the Constitution. We specifically urge the platform committee to support such an amendment.

8. Meanwhile, legislators should seek ways to affirm the dignity of unborn human life. Laws protecting individuals and organizations which conscientiously object to abortion should be maintained and strengthened, and public-funding policies should continue to encourage childbirth over abortion. Specifically, we oppose all public funding of abortion in programs for medical care and other services.

9. Although we strongly support legal equity for women, we vehemently reject efforts to link abortion "rights" to this objective. Women have been at the forefront of the drive to secure legal protection for the unborn and are generally more opposed to abortion than men are. The legitimate and important goal of equity for women should not be exploited as a vehicle for abortion and abortion funding.

10. We are deeply concerned at the evidence that, after more than a decade of denying the right to life before birth, the law's protection of the right after birth has also begun to erode. This has become clear in efforts to discriminate against infants born with physical or mental disabilities by denying them sustenance and basic lifesaving medical care. In recent years the dignity of life has been further threatened by public campaigns to authorize active euthanasia or assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, seriously disabled adults, and other vulnerable citizens.

Arms Control and Disarmament

11. In the last several years, we have addressed a broad range of national security policies that depend on the possession and planned use of nuclear weapons.

12. Our pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response condemns the countercity and counterpopulation use of nuclear weapons; rejects the notion of waging limited nuclear war because of the risk of escalation to all-out nuclear war; and questions the moral acceptability of policies that contemplate the initiation of nuclear war to repel a conventional attack, as is the case in NATO strategy. The pastoral letter also concluded that nuclear deterrence was morally acceptable, but only under strict conditions. This conditional acceptance requires that the components of the deterrent be limited to those sufficient to deter and that the arms race be reversed through mutual, verifiable arms control agreements.

13. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is a modest but important first step toward meeting these conditions. It must be a point of departure to mutual, verifiable arms control measures that make deep cuts in strategic weapons, along the lines of the proposed Strategic Arms Reduction Talks agreement, that ban all testing of nuclear weapons, that outlaw chemical weapons, and that reduce conventional forces to a new balance at the lowest levels possible. While progress is being made on these arms control initiatives, we strongly recommend that the integrity of existing arms control agreements, especially the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II, not be undermined or eroded. Finally, we oppose the addition of new weapons, such as the MX missile, that are destabilizing and excessively costly.

Civil Rights

14. Discrimination continues to haunt our nation. Whether based on race, ethnicity, sex, age, or disability, discrimination is a grave injustice and an affront to human dignity. Millions of our people continue to be deprived of their civil rights. Government must continue and strengthen its efforts to erase unjust discrimination in all its forms so that all Americans can exercise their basic human rights.

15. Racism is a particularly serious and ugly form of discrimination. A radical evil dividing the human family, racism must be resisted by every individual and eradicated from every social institution and structure.

16. The enactment of the revised 1988 Civil Rights Restoration Act was a significant step forward in strengthening federal civil rights protection while safeguarding vital concerns about human life and religious liberty. Now, new and effective remedies must be developed to combat housing discrimination, including discrimination against families with children.

Crime and Criminal Justice

17. Crime and violence are major and legitimate concerns for many. We support strong and effective action to control handguns, leading to their eventual elimination from our society. We advocate greater utilization of community-based correctional facilities, effective programs of education, rehabilitation, and job training for offenders, and the compensation of victims and crime.

18. We oppose the use of the death penalty. The return to the use of the death penalty can only lead to further erosion of respect for life. Our nation should reject the death penalty and seek means of dealing with violent crime which are more consistent with human dignity.

Economic Policy and
International Relations

19. In the 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, the U.S. bishops applied the principles of Catholic social teaching to the four major areas of international economic relations: aid, trade, finance, and investment. In each area, we found and continue to find significant gaps between principles of social and economic justice and prevailing U.S. economic policy.

20. We continue to support foreign assistance by the U.S. government, but we do not support the heavy emphasis on military assistance. We continue to support multilateral aid via the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but with growing concern about the development model ("structural adjustment," meaning export-led economic growth) these institutions prefer. We continue to support food aid in emergencies, but are increasingly concerned about the tendency to lengthen the emergency period and thus risk creating both dependency on foreign food imports and disincentives to local food production. We believe the United States should adopt a different stance from the current one regarding international trade, but we are concerned about those aspects of trade legislation that attempt to punish our competitors and ignore social injustices inflicted on workers by some economic decisions of business. We are particularly concerned about the burgeoning sales of arms to Third World countries by many countries including the United States.

21. We also have had a particular concern that countries receiving foreign assistance not be forced to adopt population methods which violate basic human rights or deeply held cultural values.

22. The beginning of a new administration of either major party seems to us an appropriate time to pause and take stock of the realities of economic life in the broadest possible measure. As we underline in our pastoral letter, "We call for a U.S. international economic policy designed to empower people everywhere and enable them to continue to develop a sense of their own worth, improve the quality of their lives, and ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared equitably."

Education

23. We support public policy that guarantees the rights of all persons to an adequate education regardless of race, sex, national origin, economic status, or personal disability. In particular, we advocate policies to improve the educational opportunities available to economically disadvantaged persons and minorities, including bilingual education, as well as compliance in schools with the legal requirements of all civil rights statutes regarding race, sex, age, and handicap conditions.

24. There should be special recognition given to the contribution made to this nation by private elementary and secondary schools. Catholic school parents alone account for a savings of $14 billion to the country's taxpayers, while at the same time contributing their share of taxes for public education.

25. We also support–and urge the platform committee to support-public means to enhance the education of children in private schools; the choice that parents make to educate their children in private schools should not be penalized by denying them equal educational opportunities for their children. We therefore urge support for the inclusion of provisions to guarantee equitable participation by private school students in all present and future federal education and education-related legislation.

26. We call your special attention to the need to rectify the devastating repercussions from the Aguilar vs. Felton decision. As a result of the court's decision, federal compensatory educational programs for eligible disadvantaged students attending private schools have been significantly reduced as to numbers of children served and the quality of instructional services. In many cases, services have been eliminated outright. New alternative programs have proven to be more costly, less effective educationally, and more disruptive to the regular academic programs of these children.

27. We likewise encourage support for sufficient federal financial assistance to help both public and private schools address the increasing mandates of environmental regulations imposed upon them.

28. We encourage the promotion of policies that will provide financial assistance to students in need to enable them to attend the higher educational institutions of their choice as well as initiate federal tax advantages for middle-income parents to promote savings for the college costs of their children. We ask you to address the nation's need for quality and affordable childcare services for the working poor. Public and private agencies should be encouraged and provided with federal financial assistance to establish centers offering early childhood services, family services, and extended daycare for school-age children.

29. Our recommendations in the area of language and literacy include the development of a national literacy program to provide services to every needy adult and aggressive enforcement of laws which ensure every limited-English child's right to an equal education.

Employment and Income

30. As a nation, we must make it possible for everyone who wants a job to find employment in a reasonable amount of time. For those who are unable to work or cannot find a job, we should provide a decent income. Current policies fall short of creating new jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions, which are necessary to meet a goal of full employment.

31. Joblessness and underemployment are still too widespread. The human and economic costs of this joblessness are morally unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Policy efforts must be made to expand employment opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Effective action against joblessness and unemployment will require a careful mix of general economic policies and targeted employment programs.

32. The federal minimum wage should be a livable wage that allows a full-time worker to maintain a family. We also reaffirm the Church's teaching regarding the responsibility of government to protect the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

33. The lack of affordable quality childcare for the children of employed parents is a growing urgent problem, especially for low-income families. Federal policy should enhance and support the efforts of employers, local government, nonprofit agencies, and churches to meet this need.

34. We urge a guarantee of a decent income for those who cannot work and adequate assistance for those in need. To achieve these goals, we support a comprehensive reform of the welfare system, which will provide an adequate income base for all Americans and replace the present system of fragmented programs. Current federal policy, which permits states to discriminate against married couples with children, is anti-family and should be abandoned. While welfare-assistance policies should encourage and support people's efforts to become self-supporting, mandatory workfare programs are an unacceptable alternative to training and real jobs with fair compensation.

35. Federal welfare policy should ensure that adequate health coverage and childcare are available to poor families who leave welfare when the parents secure employment.

Food and Agricultural Policy

36. Hunger is a growing national scandal that this nation should not tolerate. Everyone has a right to a sufficient amount of food to live his or her life in dignity. This right follows directly from the right to life. Therefore, we call for a national policy aimed at securing this right and making the elimination of hunger a national priority. We support the necessary increases and changes in the food stamp program; child nutrition; Women, Infants and Children Program; and the Temporary Food Assistance Program to meet more effectively the nutritional needs of hungry, malnourished Americans.

37. The goal of our agricultural policy should be adequate supplies of nutritious and healthy food, both domestically and overseas, and just remuneration for producers. We support an agricultural system based on small and moderate-sized family-owned and -operated farms, at home and abroad, as the best guarantee of a just food system. The United States should support such a system through its income and price-support programs, its credit and research programs, its tax policies, its supply-management programs, its strategies for rural development, and its foreign trade and aid policies.

38. We support legislation to protect the rights of farm workers, and we call for measures to improve the working conditions and general welfare of farm-worker families, including expanding minimum wages and unemployment compensation, improved housing and health care, and special protection from the harmful effects of pesticides.

Health Care

39. Health care is a basic human right that flows from the sanctity of human life. It falls to government to assure all people of adequate access to health care regardless of their economic, social, or legal status.

40. We face a health care crisis in this country which is fueled by the erosion of Medicaid and Medicare benefits, spiraling health care costs, and the burgeoning ranks of the uninsured. These factors conspire to deprive millions of Americans of adequate preventive and acute care.

41. While our goal remains a comprehensive national health insurance program, immediate attention must be given to the needs of the rural and urban poor. Priority should be given to the guarantee of quality prenatal and pediatric care to low-income mothers and children. Federal policies must encourage public- and private-sector cooperation in developing a coordinated health care system which serves the poor and provides protection of conscience in health care delivery.

Housing

42. Housing is not just a commodity. Decent housing is a basic human right. This nation has all but abandoned its responsibility to ensure every citizen an adequate place to stay. We must recognize the terrible injustice people suffer as a result of this housing crisis. Public policy must give direction and set basic criteria that will establish a commitment to decent housing.

43. This policy should:

 preserve, maintain, and improve the existing private and public low-cost, decent housing;

 develop programs that are cost-effective and flexible to increase the supply of quality housing for low-income people;

 encourage wide participation of tenants, community groups, and consumers in the housing decisions that affect their communities;

 support effective and creative partnerships among nonprofit organizations, private developers, financial institutions, and all levels of government to build and maintain affordable housing; and

 combat discrimination in housing based on race, ethnicity, sex, disability, or families with children.

Human Rights

44. The dignity of the human person requires the defense and promotion of human rights in global and domestic affairs. With respect to human rights internationally, there is a pressing need for the United States to pursue a double task: to strengthen and expand international mechanisms by which human rights can be protected and promoted; and to take seriously the human rights dimensions of our foreign policy.

45. Therefore, we support ratification of the international covenants on civil and political rights; on economic, social, and cultural rights; and on the elimination of torture. We also support a policy that gives greater weight to the protection of human rights in the conduct on U.S. affairs. The pervasive presence of U.S. power in many parts of the world creates a responsibility to use that power in the service of human rights.

Immigration

46. For over seventy years, we have been conducting major national and local programs helping migrants and refugees find their way in American society. We have also actively participated in the legislative and advocacy processes that help shape this nation's immigration policy. Our concerns regarding the future of immigration legislation in this country are threefold.

47. First, we are deeply troubled by the plight of undocumented aliens untouched by the legalization program that was part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. We fear that these people will become a new underclass facing greater privation, exploitation, and fear than they have in the past. At the same time, we are deeply concerned that the law's employer-sanction provisions prohibiting the employment of undocumented aliens have the potential for adversely affecting U.S. citizens and legal aliens of Hispanic origin. It is our sincere hope that the anti-discrimination provisions of the bill will adequately bar such negative impacts.

48. Second, while we appreciate recent attempts to reform U.S. legal immigration policy, such efforts are entirely too premature. Further, it is our belief that when the time comes to modify this aspect of immigration law, the following principles, recently enunciated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, should shape future legislative efforts.

 Family reunification must be affirmed as the fundamental precept driving a just immigration system. Our fundamental tradition is fair treatment of all nations and their emigrants.

 Temporary labor programs should be gradually excised wherever necessary; permanent workers should receive full rights and those temporary-worker categories that are necessary ought to offer full labor market rights.

 Every effort should be made to discourage illegal immigration by promoting just immigration law.

 The endangerment of any nation's valuable human resources must be avoided, especially in the case of Third World countries.

49. Finally, the United States must reaffirm its role as the world's principal "safe haven." We urge that U.S. immigration law and policy retain the process whereby the number and funding for refugees to be admitted annually are determined by refugee needs. We also support expeditious handling and due consideration for the requests of aliens who seek asylum here. We further support a compassionate policy designed to provide temporary status for those whose journeys here are brought about by violent political upheaval or by natural calamities in their countries of origin.

Mass Media

50. Communications media should be both responsive and responsible to the public interest. Laws regarding electronic media should seek to make the benefits arising from new technologies available to all. We reject the application of "marketplace" economic thinking to the telecommunications industry, for this has the effect of widening the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor in society. For this reason, we support legislative initiatives to restore the accountability of broadcasters and the owners of cable systems to the communities they are licensed or franchised to serve. The public interest must be the guiding principle behind regulatory activities at the Federal Communications Commission.

51. We call for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine through legislative or administrative action. We support legislative or administrative action that would restore the accountability of cable operators and broadcast licensees to the needs and interests of all elements of society, especially children, minorities, the elderly, and the poor. We support the concept of universal telephone service at a cost that all Americans can afford. While we oppose government control of the content of mass media, we support common-carrier regulations to restrict the use of the telephone to make available indecent or pornographic materials–many of them an affront not only to religiously based moral values, but to any standard of decency in a civilized society.

Regional Conflicts in the World

52. Central America. The Central American Peace Plan (Esquipulas II) is the most helpful development in years and requires every possible support. We urge U.S. policy to take into full consideration the legitimate concerns of the countries of the region, seeking regional solutions to regional problems whenever possible. We believe this applies as much to the current crisis in Panama as to the rest of Central America.

53. The Guatemala Accords signed in August are but the first essential step in a process leading to genuine peace, reconciliation, and development in each of the wartorn countries. We favor a continual and significant reduction in U.S. military aid to Central America and an concomitant diplomatic effort to persuade other nations also to refrain from adding to the disastrous military buildup in the region.

54. Economic assistance, especially development aid, should be extended to all the Central American countries, including Nicaragua, willing to comply with established human rights criteria. Until conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are significantly improved, including the end of state or insurgent terrorism, we continue to support the right of refugees from those countries to seek and find temporary safe haven in the United States.

55. Middle East. Among the regional conflicts in the world, none is more complex or more significant for global peace than the Middle East. The continuing carnage of the Iran-Iraq war, the persistent violence and economic devastation in Lebanon, and the Palestinian protest in the West Bank and Gaza all illustrate the need for fundamental political measures needed to address the questions of justice and peace in the Middle East.

56. The basic policy of the U.S. Catholic Conference has focused upon the Arab-Israeli issues and the war in Lebanon. We continue to believe that UN Resolution 242 sets the framework for a Middle East peace, which should provide for secure recognized borders for Israel and should also provide for a homeland for Palestinians, along with their participation in negotiations affecting their destiny. The special significance of Jerusalem should be protected by an internationally recognized judicial safeguard which takes account of the historic and religious status of the city in the eyes of the three monotheistic faiths.

57. The issues of protecting human and civil rights, particularly the rights of religious liberty, are a primary concern throughout the Middle East, where religion is closely tied to the political life of the region.

58. In Lebanon, the violence and devastation continue in a fashion that requires the concentrated attention and action of the international community. The fundamental goals must be to protect the sovereign integrity and territory of Lebanon. The Lebanese should have the possibility of determining their own destiny, free from the intervention of outside powers. While this political objective should be a primary concern of the U.S. policy, it clearly will take time to achieve it. In the interim, the United States, through public and private agencies, should provide the humanitarian and economic assistance that the Lebanese people so sorely need.

59. Southern Africa. South Africa has long been of grave moral concern to the world because of its internal racial policies and its occupation of Namibia-South West Africa. In recent years, it has become a threat to the entire area of southern Africa because of its military incursions into the territories of several of its neighbors; indeed, it has virtually occupied a large portion of Angola.

60. The United States is South Africa's largest trading partner and second-largest foreign investor. U.S. foreign policy and its influence on corporate activity in South Africa should be directed toward needed change in South Africa and in its relations with neighboring states. To this end, we support more intensive economic sanctions against South Africa as one of the few remaining nonviolent pressures for the dismantling of the immoral system of apartheid.

Conclusion

61. American Catholics have a dual heritage. As believers, we are heirs of a tradition that calls us to measure our society by how it touches the least, the lost, and the left-out among us. As citizens, we are part of a remarkable democratic tradition that sets before us the pledge of "liberty and justice for all." Today, as both believers and citizens, we urge this great political party to shape its platform first and foremost by how it touches each human person. We especially ask you to fashion a platform which respects the life, enhances the dignity, and protects the rights of all our sisters and brothers, especially the poor and most vulnerable.

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172 • Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. 888-735-3448, (718) 980-4400 • Fax 718-980-6515
mail@priestsforlife.org