Thursday, June 26, 2008

Something Incoherent About Barack Obama

6/26/2008--No, I am not referring to Senator Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court’s decision that the death penalty may not be inflicted on a child rapist. Democrats have learned not to lose Presidential elections on issues that Presidents have nothing or little to do with. I don’t like it, but it is not incoherent.

I am referring to something Obama said about religion in the public square that totally disconnects from his basic message.

Obama’s message to Evangelical Christians and other believers has been that he is comfortable with religion in the public square. According to press reports, in his speech to the 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal conference Obama stated that “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.” This openness to religion is proving very canny in terms of Obama’s election prospects. He was recently praised for it in the Wall Street Journal, for example. (William McGurn, Main Street, 6/10/2008).

But Obama was attacked Tuesday on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio program for something else he said at that 2006 Call to Renewal conference. Obama said that believers must frame debates over issues like abortion in terms of arguments accessible to all people and not just their co-believers.

Dobson rightly said that this demand was an indirect exclusion of believers from political debate. Furthermore, in a democracy, who is Obama to tell people how to speak? The answer to exclusionary language in the public square is simply that most other people will not be convinced by narrow religious appeals. But there is nothing wrong with such appeals in principle. There is no censorship in America, even of religious language. This requirement aimed only at religious believers is a vestige of a reflexive liberal discomfort with religion.

I wrote about this aspect of Obama’s message last year in op-ed pieces in the Baltimore Sun and Newsday and I am happy to see Dobson holding Obama’s feet to this particular fire. This reference restricting religious language is out-of-step with Obama’s basic message and he should repudiate it. Apparently, it is not going away.

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