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Friday, April 08, 2005

US Policies Hijacked By Religious Right: Danforth

CAIRO, March 31, 2005 – The current US administration has been playing into the hands of conservative Christians, turning the Republican Party into the political arm of the religious right, according to one of the party’s most senior and long-serving members.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations and a three-term senator from Missouri, John Danforth, further accused US President George W. Bush of falling hostage to a religious group, “departing from Republican principles (that) can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs”, according to an opinion article he wrote in the New York Times Wednesday, March 30.

Danforth, whose credentials make him a well-established senior Republican, said high-profile Republican efforts to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo, including departures from Republican principles can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs.

Schiavo is a severely brain-damaged woman who spent a fortnight without food or water in hospice following the removal of her feeding tube.

“Christian activists, eager to take credit for recent electoral successes, would not be likely to concede that Republican adoption of their political agenda is merely the natural convergence of conservative religious and political values,” he wrote.

“When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement.

“While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.”

The case of the brain-damaged Florida patient has sparked a political controversy in the United States, over the role of government as far as individual rights are concerned.

Cutting short his holiday in Texas, Bush rushed back to Washington Sunday, March 20, to follow the case and signed into law an emergency bill passed by Congress early Monday, allowing Schiavo's parents to take the case to a federal court in a bid to keep her alive.

Schiavo has been kept alive since a 1990 heart failure damaged her brain. Doctors have said in a long series of court battles over the case that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, unable to speak or help herself.

Michael Schiavo says his wife told him prior to her accident that she would never desire to be kept alive artificially.

But her parents say their daughter could improve with proper treatment and have questioned Michael Schiavo's fitness to serve as his wife’s guardian.

Earlier Thursday, March 31, the US Supreme Court rejected another petition by the parents of the brain-damaged patient, who had asked that the woman's feeding tube be reinserted, Agence France Presse (AFP) said.

Sectarian Agenda

Danforth further cited other examples of the domination of religious rights’ agenda over the Republican Party’s policies, such as advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban the same-sex marriage and opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in Petri dishes.

“I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law,” Danforth said.

“The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

“Take stem cell research. Criminalizing the work of scientists doing such research would give strong support to one religious doctrine, and it would punish people who believe it is their religious duty to use science to heal the sick.”

Bidding to win the knife-edge presidential race with Democrat candidate John Kerry, Bush played the religion card, working hard to show to the American people, many of whom have firm religious convictions, his religious commitment.

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