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 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

July 15, 2004
   Vol. 2, No. 14

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"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

* The Web link to Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is provided as a service to our readers.

You will read this only here (unfortunately)

By Joan Chittister,OSB

You are not supposed to be allowed to read this column. It was solicited by another publisher and then returned to sender, me, because it says things that some people are allowed to say but others, apparently, are not.

The story is this. A magazine in the United States, no names mentioned, planned to publish a "roundtable" feature on the upcoming election. The question posed to each of the writers seemed at first blush to be basically simple, essentially straightforward: "What," the editor wanted to know from each of us, "do you think is the major issue in the upcoming November presidential election?" "Interesting question," I thought. "I can't wait to see the answers to this one."

Then this magazine that is incorporated as a 501c3 organization, or not-for-profit entity, got a ruling from its lawyer saying that if this particular feature were printed they stood in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. Since all of the writers, it seems, had criticized the Bush administration for some failure in regard to the area of interest being treated, the company lawyer feared IRS reprisals against the group on the grounds of "political endorsement."

The magazine withdrew the opinion pieces that formed the basis for the roundtable.

That happened in the face of Catholic bishops who will refuse Communion to candidates who vote for pro-choice legislation and Bush campaign strategists who have targeted 1,600 "friendly" churches in Pennsylvania to hand over their list of members to the local Republican party.

As a result, I have decided to publish those previous comments of mine here, not as a political endorsement of any kind, but simply because I still believe in two things: First, I believe in freedom of speech. And secondly, I still believe in the United States as "land of the free and home of the brave."

When either of those qualities goes, the country won't be worth living in anyway, taxes or no taxes.

So, I repeat here what was meant to be published there:

I am convinced that the unspoken -- and secretly most impelling -- issue in the election of 2004 is the election of 2000. This election, in fact, will almost certainly be seen by many, both now and in the future, as an attempt to reconfirm the image of governmental integrity in the United States, to reassert real democracy, to reauthenticate the American ballot box. John Kerry himself spoke to the lingering impact of the last election when questioned about whether, as president, he would work to overturn the election of international leaders whose policies did not agree with our own. Kerry put it this way: "As far as I know," he said, "an election is still an election. Except in Florida."

Everywhere the subject never really goes away. Everywhere the continuing dissatisfaction goes deep.

So, there is a campaign issue beyond, but basic to, any of the other ones: Will this election be decided by the people or by boxes of uncounted ballots, a State Attorney General and the Supreme Court? The real American question is: What would have been lost by taking two more weeks to recount ballots in a way that honored the foundation of the entire American system of government?

But don't be fooled. This issue is not a trivial one, coming out of pique or fostered by sore losers. On the contrary. This is the issue that determines every other issue on the agenda. Worst of all, perhaps never have there been greater issues than now, and all at one time. Until we assure ourselves that our elections are safe, nothing else in this country is safe.

Because of those ballots, lost or stolen, misused or miscounted, obstructed or not, the country found itself with one set of programs rather than another.

As a result, the issues that only a ballot can decide are this time more momentous than ever.

War; American civil rights; the constitutional requirement that presidential war plans are subject to congressional approval; international law; and the imperious posturing by the United States in the United Nations, lead the list of foreign policy concerns, of course. Nevertheless, although these issues determine our relationships around the world and our image as a nation, they don't even begin to touch the domestic issues that are being routinely ignored or manipulated by present governmental policies.

The erosion of civil rights; the outsourcing of American jobs; the lack of medical insurance for almost 40 million citizens -- 10 million of them children -- which will certainly come back to the public-at-large through other costs; educational facilities and programs in a state of pitiable, pathetic deterioration; massive internal debt that will affect both taxes and domestic programs for generations to come; and the reckless, if not callous, obeisance to business interests and oil barons over the plight of average citizens for four years, will plague this country for decades.

In the end, it is the issue of the ballot box that determines the rest of the issues of the country. Over half of those who voted in 2000 remember that. The other half may be hoping they forget it. Don't count on it. However little people say about it publicly, I have an idea that the major issue underlying this next election is, nevertheless, the election we had before it.

From where I stand, being able to say all the above without fear of audits meant to intimidate, control and silence is at least as important as who will finally be elected in 2004.

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