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opinion/commentary View Comments

Detoxifying Our Political Disagreements
By Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM
Source: St. Anthony Messenger
Published: Monday, February 28, 2011
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We are outraged by the January 8 murders in Tucson outside a Safeway supermarket of Christina Green, Dorothy Morris, John M. Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabriel Zimmerman. Gabrielle Giffords, the primary target of the attack and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was shot and wounded, along with 13 other people.

Giffords and Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for Arizona, had received death threats in recent years. On the day she was shot, Giffords had been speaking with a couple about Medicare reimbursements during a “Congress on Your Corner” event.

The 22-year-old alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, had been suspended from Pima County Community College last October after campus police were called five times because of his disruptions in classrooms or at the library.

Giffords, a Democrat, opposed Arizona’s 2010 tough immigration law that focuses on identifying, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants. Her support of the 2010 federal health-care law was very controversial.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed the attack on the “vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” Republicans and Democrats condemned the attack.

It’s not enough for us to say that Loughner has a mental illness and then continue overheated political rhetoric. At some point, we become complicit in the hate speech that we do not effectively oppose.

In recent years, our political conversations have become dramatically less civil. On the Internet, in newspaper columns, on some radio talk shows and TV programs, people who disagree with our political positions are increasingly demonized and characterized as “bad” or “anti-American” rather than as “having a different political viewpoint.”

Jared Loughner initially refused to cooperate with investigators, citing the Fifth Amendment. That protection against self-incrimination is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, a document that would not exist if its drafters had demonized those who held different political opinions about various parts of that text.

As voters, we often say that we want more bipartisanship in state and national legislatures, but too many of us willingly pour gasoline on political fires.

Sharp political disagreements surfaced among the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution 11 years later. They were, however, able to find a way of working together.

For example, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were great patriots but often found themselves on opposite sides politically.

We need politics because reasonable people frequently disagree about which new legislation benefits a city, state or country or about how to amend earlier legislation.

Although the Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are created equal,” its drafters really meant that “all males who own land” are created equal. Slavery was outlawed during the Civil War. Women could not vote in federal elections until 1920.

The political process grinds to a halt if participants wrap the flag around their
viewpoints and brand everyone who holds a different opinion as not only evil but, in fact, also deserving extermination!

Isn’t there a double standard if the kind of speech that attracts close attention from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—if spoken by U.S. Muslims—no longer offends many of us if we apply it to our domestic political opponents?

With a wink or a nod, too many of us are ready to say, “This may not be politically correct, but...,” and then say something truly hateful about some individual or group in our society.

Religious or political zeal, however, gives no one the right to trample upon fundamental human rights.

Politics always touches on what promotes or threatens the common good of society. That explains why politics will always require flexibility and a sense that “this may not be perfect, but it is the best that we can achieve at this time.”

Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, would probably have described themselves as Christians. But would they recognize Jesus among the selfproclaimed Christian zealots whose right-wing or left-wing rhetoric we increasingly accept as “normal”?

In 1776, one signer, Charles Carroll of Carrolltown, Maryland, could not vote in that colony because he was a Catholic. Even so, his fellow citizens selected him as a representative to the Second Continental Congress.

Our level of political tolerance today is dramatically less than what existed in 1776. Do we have enough mutual respect to write the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution?

We cannot remain free and intolerant. Now is the time to act peacefully on this issue. Our faith demands it.


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Joan of Arc: 
		<p>Burned at the stake as a heretic after a politically-motivated trial, Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.</p>
		<p>Born of a fairly well-to-do peasant couple in Domremy-Greux (southeast of Paris), Joan was only 12 when she experienced a vision and heard voices that she later identified as Sts. Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch.</p>
		<p>During the Hundred Years War, she led French troops against the English and recaptured the cities of Orléans and Troyes. This enabled Charles VII to be crowned as king in Reims in 1429. Captured near Compiegne the following year, she was sold to the English and placed on trial for heresy and witchcraft. Professors at the University of Paris supported Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvis, the judge at her trial; Cardinal Henry Beaufort of Winchester, England, participated in the questioning of Joan in prison. In the end, she was condemned for wearing men's clothes. The English resented France's military success–to which Joan contributed. </p>
		<p>On this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, and her ashes were scattered in the Seine River. A second Church trial 25 years later nullified the earlier verdict, which was reached under political pressure.</p>
		<p>Remembered by most people for her military exploits, Joan had a great love for the sacraments, which strengthened her compassion toward the poor. Popular devotion to her increased greatly in 19th-century France and later among French soldiers during World War I. Theologian George Tavard writes that her life "offers a perfect example of the conjunction of contemplation and action" because her spiritual insight is that there should be a "unity of heaven and earth."</p>
		<p>Joan of Arc has been the subject of many books, plays, operas, and movies. </p>
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