Clergy and media address how voters become informed



Election panel

Larri W. Mazon, left, director of Institutional Diversity Initiatives at Fairfield University, was the moderator for a panel discussion on values, issues and the media and how voters get their information. Standing next to Mr. Mazon, (L-R) were panelists Rev. Brian Schofield-Bodt, president and CEO of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches, James Smith, editor of the Connecticut Post, and Rev. Richard Ryscavage, director of Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life. The Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches and the Center for Faith and Public Life sponsored the event.

People from the worlds of politics, religion, academia and community non-profits came together at Fairfield University on Thursday morning, Feb. 7, just after the Super Tuesday primaries, to talk about how issues, values and the media affect elections.

Leading the discussion at the breakfast meeting, that attracted about 70 political, civic, university and church leaders, were the Rev. Brian Schofield-Bodt, president and CEO of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches, the Rev. Richard Ryscavage, director of the University's Center for Faith and Public Life; and James Smith, editor of the Connecticut Post.

"We sometimes focus on hot button issues and neglect teaching less publicized ones," Rev. Scofield-Bodt said. Of his own faith tradition he asked, "Do Methodists know that we reject capital punishment? Do our people know we reject policies of enforced military service as incompatible with the Gospel? That we support conscientious objection to all war or any particular war? That we respect those who support the use of war but only in extreme situations, when the need is beyond reasonable doubt, and through appropriate international organizations?"

He urged the audience "to be informed of one's own faith, the faiths of others, and the ethical and civic imperatives for the democratic experiment we cherish,"

Editor James Smith said the nation's long tradition of religious freedom came from a fierce separation of church and state that dates back to the founding fathers. "In the early 1700s," he pointed out, "you could be burned a the stake for not going along with the church embraced by the Puritans." Giving a brief outline of the history of the separation of Church and State from the time of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, he said that the First Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, "does four things: It prohibits the government from preferring one religion over another, or religion over non-religion; it guarantees the right of peaceable assembly; it guarantees freedom of the press; and it guarantees our right to petition the government for redress of grievances."

He pointed out that freedom of - and freedom from - religion has been upheld by the Supreme Court in various cases in the last 25 years, beginning with the 1985 decision to strike down an Alabama law calling for a period of meditation or voluntary prayer in schools and the 2005 case in which the display of the Ten Commandments were removed from Kentucky courthouses.

Fr. Richard Ryscavage said the role of the official Catholic Church "is to teach, following Christ's dictate to teach," while the Catholic laity's role "is to get involved in politics. All Catholics have a responsibility to vote and engage in the political process," he said. "You cannot separate private spirituality from public responsibility for the common good of society. The role of the Church is to teach the fundamental moral principles that apply."

He explained Catholic Social Teaching and the principles of the Common Good - that one should not vote for one's own personal self interest; Subsidiary - to never do at the top what you can do at the bottom; and Protecting the Dignity of the Human Person - including those from the youngest to the oldest.

Following the event, Mr. Smith commended Father Ryscavage and Rev. Schofield-Bodt for "eloquently advocating what their faith stands for in today's society. They used humor, persuasion and deep commitment, helping us all tackle the role of religion in democracy." He said he thought those who attended, "came away with a better understanding of how we should act in this pivotal election year."

The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport and the Center for Faith and Public Life presented the program, and plan to follow it up with an April 15 forum on "Taxation without Representation: Do We Need Another Revolution?" This session will be led by a group of under-30 adults and will address such issues as registering voters, getting out the vote and participating in the political arena.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 12, 2008

Vol. 40, No.