Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 12, 2004

Proud to wear the ‘liberal’ label

Columnist James Fennell wonders why I’m a liberal. Here are a few of the reasons I’m proud to wear the liberal label:

• Separation of church and state. Freedom from religious persecution, the very reason intrepid settlers came to these shores, is key to our democracy. It protects the religious and the non-religious from the dangers of state-imposed religion. History is replete with examples of evil acts perpetrated upon those who didn’t happen to believe in the government-approved dogma of the day. The most religious ought to be the most passionate supporters of the separation of church and state. I’m continually mystified as to why the opposite seems to be true.

Separation of church and state is central to the debate over same-sex marriage. If churches want to withhold their blessings from same-sex couples, that’s their right. But our secular government should not deny the benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples because some religions object.

Similarly, a Ten Commandments monument doesn’t belong in the Alabama Supreme Court any more than one bearing verses from the Koran. Conservatives should have been outraged that a judge, sworn to uphold the Constitution, violated a court order and weakened the separation of church and state. Instead, most were incensed that the judge was suspended and the monument was moved.

When I scan the political spectrum, I see that liberals generally protect the separation of church and state while conservatives frequently denigrate and weaken it.

• Privacy. The government has no business controlling the private sexual behavior of consenting adults. Yet, when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas sodomy law recently, conservatives from coast to coast predicted the end of western civilization.

The government shouldn’t be peeking into bedroom windows dictating proper sexual positions or partners. The government’s interest ends at making sure sex involves consenting adults.

Here’s Judith Martin’s take: “Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not.”

When I scan the political spectrum, I notice that conservatives seem to be terribly interested in what other people are doing their bedrooms and forcing them to conform to their standards of normal. Liberals’ interest, on the other hand, generally ends at ensuring that consenting adults are involved.

• Civil liberties. The Patriot Act is a dangerous threat to the Bill of Rights. It allows the government to conduct searches of private records held by third parties (for example, libraries, doctors, Internet service providers) and to conduct those searches without notifying the subject. These provisions of the Patriot Act violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches.

It’s ironic that in the name of fighting terrorism, we’re being forced to give up the very civil liberties that make us so different from the terrorists. I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s wise warning, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

When I scan the political spectrum, I see liberals trying to protect civil liberties while, too often, conservatives are willing to erode them.

• Improving society. Without liberals seeking to change the status quo, our country wouldn’t have been founded by immigrants seeking to avoid religious persecution; abolitionists wouldn’t have fought to end slavery; suffragists wouldn’t have battled to give women the right to vote; the civil rights movement wouldn’t have sought to end race-based discrimination.

Today’s civil rights battle seeks to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. We see the same tactics employed by those who are desperate to maintain bias against homosexuals as we saw in all the previous battles. The doomsday predictions and fire-and-brimstone hate speech by opponents of equal rights for homosexuals will prove to be so much hot air, just like the words of opponents of women voting and of ending race-based discrimination were.

• Patriotism. I love my country; I’m a patriot and a proud American. Because I value all that America represents – free speech, freedom to practice any or no religion, democracy, equality, privacy, opportunity – I’m a liberal. Liberal is not a dirty word, as our first president understood:

“As mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” – George Washington.



  1. […] not a dirty word I’ve said it before, but it’s good to read it in the New York Times in Bob Herbert’s column. Key quote: […]

  2. […] is not a dirty word I’ve said it before, but it’s good to read it in the New York Times in Bob Herbert’s column. Key quote: […]

  3. […] So, I’m forced to wonder: Did you flunk the part of your constitutional law classes about the separation of church and state, which protects the most religious among us, or did you just decide that you know better than the […]

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