‘Catholics at the Capitol’ aims to inspire public policy participation

| January 9, 2017 | 8 Comments

Minnesota’s Catholics have a new opportunity to join their bishops and learn how to approach key policy areas through the lens of faith.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is hosting the first Catholics at the Capitol event March 9 at the St. Paul RiverCentre and State Capitol Building in St. Paul.

The event is intended to be more than an issue lobbying day, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director. He hopes participants gain a deeper understanding of how Catholic teaching can shape their approach in the public square.

“What we need to do is inspire, engage and equip Catholics as Catholics to participate in the public policy process, and that’s what this day is meant to do,” Adkins said.

Scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the day will include speakers Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Gloria Purvis Scott, a commentator for the Eternal Word Television Network and chairwoman for Black Catholics United for Christ.

The event will also include prayer, as well as issue and advocacy training on education, anti-poverty efforts and defense of life. All of the state’s active bishops plan to attend.

The initiative is the first of its kind for MCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. The organization has long participated in advocacy days including the March for Life and the annual Joint Religious Legislative Coalition Day on the Hill, but never before has it brought together people solely because of their shared Catholic faith.

“A lot of our bread-and-butter issues were covered by other advocacy coalitions or advocacy partners that we could funnel Catholics into,” Adkins said. “What changed is that not only do we need a distinctly Catholic and faith voice at the Capitol, but we [also] need to equip Catholics to engage the political process.”

After the morning program at the RiverCentre, participants will go to the State Capitol to meet in groups with their legislators. Adkins hopes that encounter is the basis for ongoing relationships between the lawmakers and constituents.

“There are so many barriers to participation in the public policy process: ‘I don’t know what to say; I don’t know who to contact,’” Adkins said. “Most Catholics don’t know who their state legislators are, so what we’re really trying to do here is not just to go and tell legislators what the Church thinks about an issue, but really help Catholics — on whatever issue they’re concerned about — be better public servants and faithful citizens.”

Adkins expects participants to be well-received by their lawmakers.

“Legislators want to hear from their constituents because they want to know what their constituents are thinking,” he said. “Sometimes issues are not on their radar, and their constituents bring those issues to their attention.

“This isn’t about pressuring legislators or imposing our will on them,” he added. “It’s actually a service to legislators … [to offer] our perspective as Catholics, as a member of a particular parish, of a particular community, about what serves the common good. And it’s definitely important for Catholics like anyone else in society to offer that perspective.”

Early bird registration is $20. Youth ages 22 and younger are free. Registration includes continental breakfast and a box lunch. Catholics interested in serving as district leaders are encouraged to contact the MCC. For more information, visit http://www.catholicsatthecapitol.org.

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  • Paula Ruddy

    Is there only one Catholic perspective on political issues? Instead of pretending that Catholics are united in one view, I think it would be better to spend all the time, effort, and money in promoting honest dialogue among Catholics. At present the only voice allowed in the Archdiocese comes from the “evangelical Catholic” bubble.

    • KH

      Sounds like a good opportunity to make sure those other voices are heard, Paula. Are you attending?

      • Paula Ruddy

        No, KH. It might sound like a possible or even easy thing to bring another point of view to an organized group’s lobbying effort. Not the way it works, nor would it feel respectful to me to do it that way. I will go instead to the February 23 “Day on the Hill” with the JRLC (Joint Religious Legislative Coalition). If Catholics want to lobby for government providing a safety net (social justice), why not do it with other communities of faith as we have for many years?

        My objection to the separate Catholic day is that we shouldn’t be asking lawmakers to enact laws to enforce Catholic personal ethical positions. For example, the Church teaches that assisted-suicide is wrong, but many other Minnesota citizens do not hold that it is unconditionally wrong or that it devalues life. Should the law enforce the Catholic view? I think it is unethical as a citizen to lobby that way. Do you see what I mean? I’d be interested to hear how you justify it.

        • KH

          Absolutely see what you mean. My pastor’s homily was about this viewpoint just last week. His point was, once we start parsing morality so as not to “impose” on other people, then everything is fair game. In this instance, I might say that, yes, sometimes I think it is ok to help another person kill themselves, for their own good, because their “quality of life” is not what they want etc. But then, what would my argument be if, for instance, another person believed in slavery, and I don’t? The point is that the law should enforce the ethical and moral view… which is, coincidentally, aligned with the 10 Commandments. Every single day the legislature makes choices that some citizens agree with, and some don’t. And they are not all fluff issues. We can have a backbone, and do what’s right. Or not. And, valuing life is not solely a Catholic view.

          • KH

            Also, in reference to “If Catholics want to lobby for government providing a safety net (social justice), why not do it with other communities of faith as we have for many years?” That is a fabulous *additional* mode of tackling the matter. And, not or. As for Catholics being separate or together with other religions and the government… Exactly who just build that huge new center to help the homeless in St. Paul?

          • Paula Ruddy

            We’ve got apples and oranges here, KH. A slave owning economic system is surely a matter of social justice and subject to law. Even if an individual were to own a slave because s/he “believed in slavery” it would be a matter of harming another person, the slave, and subject to law. On the other hand, there are personal decisions one makes about one’s own life and those one is relating to that have ethical implications but are not matters for legal coercion. For example, a marriage partner is a personal choice with many ethical implications, but the law restricts very little–age and consanguinity mainly. A core U.S. constitutional value is to respect people’s freedom unless there are good publicly accessible reasons for restricting it. “Catholic teaching” or “the catechism” or “the Bible says” are not in and by themselves good publicly accessible reasons for law-making. Those reasons can govern our own actions, of course. So what are the good reasons to unconditionally restrict a person’s freedom in taking his/her own life? Is it ethical to lobby for a law without good reasons?

          • Paula Ruddy

            I’d question your pastor, KH: If you start “parsing morality” you come up with two different categories, one that deals with public social arrangement, for which many people use the term “morality”, and another involving community codes for a good life, for which people use the term “ethics.” Some people use the terms interchangeably but there is nevertheless a distinction between public social arrangements (social justice) and personal decisions for which there are no public reasons for restricting freedom. In the US, we allow people to live by their own codes for a good life just as we allow them to live by their own religious practices unless, of course, they adversely impact others. You’d agree with that, wouldn’t you?

  • Paula Ruddy

    Jason Adkins writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, Feb. 1, which I think is the ethical role of the the Catholic spokesman in the political arena–contributing a Catholic perspective to the public conversation. It is about surrogacy, in this case. Discussion rather than enactment of laws is the way to make the Catholic contribution on personal ethics issues. What is counter-productive is that Adkins uses a sneering tone and begins with the tried and true culture warrior mode of mocking the public media. It is the forum offering him a voice but he doesn’t sound appreciative, he sounds preachy.. He also uses the culture warrior tactic of sneering at specific words, here the word “restricts.” Law does restrict freedom, that is what it is for.

    If you look at the comments you can see that Adkins tone and style, as well as the fear inducing content, is insulting to people. He is not building the Catholic Church’s credibility in the public sphere.