Over the past few days, I’ve sent letters to multiple county and state officials of the Colorado Republican Party, asking for them to support a strict separation of church and state. I wanted to let them know that their alliance with the Religious Right was costing them votes from former supporters such as myself.
Given that I believe that the Republicans will lose in 2008 here in the “purple” swing state of Colorado, I believe that it’s important that they hear that particular message now (before the election) and later (after the election) — specifically, that they lost because they were too religious.
In particular, I don’t want the only message they receive coming from the evangelical Christians telling them that they lost because they were not religious enough.
Some analysts such as Ryan Sager (author of The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party) have said that Colorado will be “Ground Zero” in the battle over the future of the Republican Party. Sager also believes that the Republicans will lose in Colorado if they continue to embrace the religionists. As they should.
The relevant excerpt from my most recent letter is below. Although I don’t think I will necessarily change the minds any of the current local party leaders, it’s still important for them to know that there are people who oppose them mixing religion with politics. I also wanted to articulate a positive vision of America that I do support, one which should resonate with the better Republicans:
…My parents came to America over 40 years ago as legal immigrants from Taiwan. They had very little money, but they came to America because they wanted to make a better life for themselves. Over the years, they worked hard, lived frugally, saved enough money to send two sons to college and medical school, and are now happily and comfortably retired in Los Angeles. From them, I learned a deep appreciation for America as the “land of opportunity”. America is a beacon of hope to millions of people around the world precisely because it has a system of government which allows honest, hard-working people such as my parents to thrive and prosper. Our system of government is a testament to the genius of the Founding Fathers, who recognized that the proper function of government is protect individual rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Consequently, I don’t believe that one should ground principles of government in faith. Instead, they can and should be grounded in observable objective facts about human nature — specifically our need to use our minds to think and live. Man’s essential nature requires that he uses his reasoning mind to create the values necessary for sustaining his life. Hence, the basic purpose of a government is to protect a man’s right to produce and to voluntarily trade with others for the products of their thought and labor. Protecting individual rights means protecting men from those who would use force to predate on others — i.e., protecting Americans from external enemies who would wage war on us as well as from internal criminals who would use force to steal, murder, commit rape, etc. But apart from that, the government should leave honest people alone – which is why our government properly protects our right to free speech, the right to keep and bear arms, the rights of property and contract, and the right to worship freely.
In particular, a person’s religious faith should not enter into issues of government. Instead, the government’s role is to protect each person’s right to practice his or her religion as a private matter and to forbid them from forcibly imposing their particular views on others. And this is precisely why I find the influence of the Religious Right on the Republican Party to be so dangerous. If someone chooses not to get an abortion for reasons of personal faith, then I completely respect her right to live by her beliefs. But she should not impose her particular religious stance on others. Other women must have the right to decide that deeply personal issue for themselves. The Religious Right’s goal to outlaw abortions would violate that important right, and sacrifice the lives of actual women for clumps of cells that are only potential (but not yet actual) human beings, based on a religious dogma. As a physician, I find that position abhorrent and deeply anti-life.
The Religious Right’s positions on other issues, such as banning stem cell research and same sex marriage are similarly troubling because it advocates using the power of the government to interfere with individual rights. I already see enough of that kind of harmful nonsense from the Democrats.
Hence, I think the Republican Party stands at an important crossroads. The Republican Party could choose to follow the principles of the American Founding Fathers and promote a limited government that protects individual rights but otherwise leaves people alone to live their lives. In that case, I would happily suppport it. Separation of church and state is a natural (and essential) consequence of that approach. Or the Republican Party could choose instead to embrace the Religious Right and enshrine into law the religious values of one particular constituency over others (thus violating everyone else’s rights). In that case, it will alienate many voters and do tremendous harm to our great country.
Even though I can no longer regard myself as a Republican, I definitely regard myself as a loyal American. Hence, I believe the Republican Party should choose the first path — the path of limited government, strict separation of church and state, and protection of individual rights. This is the America that brought my parents from a ocean away in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. This is the America I want to live in. And this is the America I want the Republican Party to support.
Thank you for your consideration,
Paul Hsieh, MD
That letter was a response to an earlier e-mail I received from the secretary of my local county Republican Party, which I am posting below with his permission. In particular, he states that faith should be the basis of morality, and he explains his stance on abortion which essentially reflects the standard conservative Christian view. Here is an excerpt of his earlier letter:
…You seem to suggest that the opposition to stem-cell research and abortion places the GOP “in bed” with the religious right. Why this may appear to be the truth, there is an underlying connection that you are failing to acknowledge. The Republican Party upholds the founding principles of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, as the founding fathers specifically cited as rights Endowed by the Creator (Nature’s God, to be exact). These are rights not given, but endowed — bestowed upon every human to protect. The idea of the endowment of Life is not new and not owned exclusively by the religious right. In the spirit of following the intent of the founders, and embracing their understanding of basic human rights, the Republican Party must uphold the Right of Life.
Inasmuch, the question is begged: When does life begin? Therein lies the debate.
In accordance with the 14th amendment, the rights of the founding documents are applicable to those “born” in the United States. That word would seem to indicate that a fetus of any gestational age is therefore without rights. This is the basis of the Roe decision in the Supreme Court. However, as a doctor, you should well understand that a fetus is very much alive and responsive to their environment from a fairly early gestational age, regardless of their ability to survive independent of their mother at the time. With the complexity of life in gestation, it serves humanity to better define Life — not limiting life to begin merely at birth. Therefore we are in support of the Right of Life, as we consider life to exist during gestation.
Barack Obama has shown in his political career that he shows almost no compassion for life in the womb, supporting late term abortion and referring to children as a punishment. Having lost our first pregnancy, my wife and I are happy to have recently delivered our first child — rest assured we do not feel punished. My brother and his wife also recently gave birth to their first child, who has been diagnosed with Propionic Acidemia — and rest assured, they do not value his life any less, nor feel punished. I would assume that Mr. Obama would consider such a child a burden on society and the parents — most likely he would suggest such a fetus be discarded. But is it not the challenge of life that should cause us to persevere… perhaps this young child holds the key to medical research that could aid in curing this and other genetic defects. Where Obama sees punishment and burden, I choose to see opportunity. This is a fundamental difference between me and the Senator — and I would imagine that this is a similar difference between the Senator and a majority of Republicans who continue to fight, not because it is easy, rather because it is right.
The Republican Party does not openly nor privately advocate for any one religion, but we are advocates against the absence of faith from the lives of Americans. We are not a Christian organization, merely an organization that supports and endorses the existence of faith as a basis of morality — not in government, but in the lives and hearts of the individual, at their own request and choosing. I personally could never be part of an organization that openly endorsed a state religion (such as the Constitution Party which openly supports naming Christianity as the official religion of the US). Furthermore, you will notice that the ranks of the GOP are filled with many people of faith, from many different religions. We support them all…
Steven M Nielson
Secretary, Douglas County Republican Party