Downplaying religious voice can only help

By 
  • December 7, 2007

TORONTO - The movement against euthanasia and assisted suicide will have the greatest impact if a secular face replaces a religious one, say advocates.

“The issue is that the religious groups are not the only ones there. That’s what we need to make known,” said Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund headquartered in Berkeley, California.

Right now the euthanasia prevention movement is largely funded by religious groups, namely Christians. This was evident at the First International Symposium on Euthanasia and Suicide Prevention, at which Golden spoke on Dec. 1. It was sponsored in part by the archdiocese of Toronto.

“No one can deny the enormous impact the religious groups have had in the movement’s past, present and future and no one will ever match that,” said Golden, who doesn’t consider herself “faith-motivated.”

“Never deny the diversity. It’s a broad coalition. (But) everybody knows these (religious) groups are there, so there’s no need to emphasize them.”

Golden recommended that religion in the movement should be downplayed.

“Always keep the public face and interior face completely secular because you win more allies that way,” she said.

“We can’t have ads for religious-themed Christmas cards promoting our events. Our organizations need a secular name. Our web sites cannot be affiliated with a Catholic diocese.

“I’m not against faith organizations, but it’s a pragmatic thing. We need to win,” said Golden, who has worked to prevent the legalization of assisted-suicide since 1999.

“References to God and religion won’t bring secular folks into our coalition. They won’t feel that it’s a place for them.”

Opponents will say “everyone in opposition are religious conservatives, imposing their views on us.”

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of Pro-life Activities with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agrees.

“If this is seen primarily as a religious concern, it’s based on a view (many people) don’t share. This is really a human rights concern.

“To some people this is a religious issue. But it’s much broader than religion. Religious and secular groups have to work together on a common goal.”

Johanna Miller said from her experience as the external communications representative for LifeLine, a secular pro-life group at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., it’s easier to argue on behalf of life issues if religious language is avoided.

“We’ll get stigmatized,” said the Catholic who is a fourth-year social work student. “We have history, natural logic, so it doesn’t have to be tied to religion.

“I don’t see it as avoiding religion. It’s finding the right approach, a way of speaking with your audience.”

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