Although the Constitution calls for separation of church and state, it is impossible to draw an absolute line between social and religious issues, including the tax initiatives on the November ballot, a Salt Lake religious leader said Wednesday.
Bishop William K. Weigand of the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese spoke at the University of Utah on the delicate balance between First Amendment rights to free speech and religion's involvement in the political process. J.D. Williams, professor of political science, also spoke."It would be inappropriate of me to tell people how to vote, but I can share my thinking," said Weigand.
Weigand described the Catholic Church's moral and traditional role as "the voice for the voiceless."
"We have a duty toward truth and assisting people with the implications of that."
In a weekly church newsletter, Weigand issued a statement titled "The Tax Initiatives: A Possible Frame of Reference." He said he had been pressed for advice from his congregation on the initiatives, and based on "scriptural tradition and rational thought," opposed Initiatives A and B, but did not oppose C.
The first two initiatives would have massive impact on services, he said, and the needed cuts would likely be made in human services. The Catholic tradition of protecting the dignity and well-being of people runs counter to the tax cuts. Weigand urges Catholics to study the data and relevant moral tenets and pray for guidance.
Weigand said he "could not oppose Initiative C" because of the Catholic Church's long tradition of believing the first right of education belongs to parents and their choice of schooling for their children. He does not support Initiative C, however, because he feels it is poorly written and does not define the criteria for private schools adequately.
Williams acknowledged the power churches have through their members and the potential abuse that is possible with that power. He questioned whether political judgments delivered from the clergy should be seen "as a statement of divine will."
If members of a church believe their clergy are speaking directly from divine communication, he asked, what happens to democracy when there is "an elite group with a special kind of vision?"
He also questioned the propriety of a religious group supporting a candidate, such as the Moral Majority's support of President Reagan. The fact that clergy may take definite positions on issues may also cause serious conflict within the church, he said, and can divert church leaders from their primary responsibilities.
Weigand said the tenets and moral teachings of a religion should be applied to specific situations and issues and inspire debate and rational thought. "Ours is a relevant body of wisdom and does not expect God to deliver messages on specific application."
Involvement of churches in politics will continue, said Weigand, not because religious leaders want to control the political process, but because the issues have deep moral and social importance. Technological advancements in warfare and medicine, and the growing interdependence of people worldwide, necessitate religious involvement to develop "an ethical consensus to guide us to what's right, what's fair."