Kudos to Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.) for his strong defense of fellow Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.) who was asked by a Catholic bishop not to receive Holy Communion because of his support for abortion rights.
The church is more than free to voice its positions on a variety of issues. But it should not pressure elected officials to chose between full membership in the church and carrying out their sworn elected duties.
Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?
Kennedy is in a dispute with Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence over funding for abortions. Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.), criticized Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose health-care reform unless it tightened funding on abortions. Tobin responded by questioning Kennedy's faith.
Turns out the bishop has been leaning on Kennedy for some time. Tobin wrote Kennedy a letter in 2007 asking him not to receive Communion because of his pro-choice stance on abortion.
The Supreme Court has upheld a women's right to abortion. Elected officials are sworn to follow the laws of the land.
Murphy, of Bucks County, reiterated why it would be bad for church policy to shape public policy. "We don't legislate at the orders of the Vatican," he said.
Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, disclosed that a local priest refused to bless his marriage during his first campaign for Congress in 2006 because of his pro-choice views.
This is not the first time the church has tried to pressure Catholic lawmakers. The Archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., has said that former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius should stop taking communion because she supports abortion rights. Sebelius is now secretary of health and human services.
Vice President Biden has faced similar pressure from the church; so has Sen. John F. Kerry (D., Mass.).
Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, was forced to confront the issue 25 years ago. He gave an eloquent speech at the University of Notre Dame that articulates why church leaders shouldn't pressure Catholic lawmakers to work for antiabortion legislation.
"We must keep in mind always that we are a nation of laws – when we like those laws, and when we don't," he said. "We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might some day force theirs on us."