Casting his vote for a GOP budget amendment last week, Bellevue's Republican congressman, Representative Dave Reichert (WA-8), joined a vindictive ideological ploy to deny Planned Parenthood federal funding. Given that federal dollars are already prohibited from paying for abortion services, the GOP amendment was a symbolic attack. However, the attack came with real implications: Had it passed, the amendment would have cut off health care for low-income and young women.
"I find it unconscionable," says Karen Cooper, executive director of NARAL, "that Reichert and his anti-choice cronies tried to single out an organization that provides cancer screening, breast exams, and birth control and target them because [it] also provides abortion care."
Reichert's hardcore vote is noteworthy because it's one in a series of Reichert votes—with the exception of his meaningless vote, practically speaking, with the Democrats on Terri Schiavo—that abandons facts on the ground apparently for the dictates of his religion. Other votes include his vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; his vote allowing federal dollars to go to faith-based organizations even if those organizations have discriminatory practices; his vote for stricter abortion parental notification laws; and his vote against stem-cell research. Reichert did cast later votes for stem-cell research—thanks to his tough reelection campaign in an increasingly liberal district— but they seem meaningless and politically calculated given his previous vote and given the safe margin by which his party rejected the idea.
Until the Bush era, it might have been considered tacky to report on a politician's religion. But Reichert's GOP—which pushes moral values and and intelligent design and abstinence-only education and limits on abortion rights—has made religion a political issue. Reichert did not return my call to talk about his politics, but given his vote last week, the time for being polite about religion is over.
Reichert is a member of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). They believe in "pure doctrine"—that is, the Bible is literally true. They believe in the Biblical creation story and passed a resolution that creationism be taught in all LCMS schools, nursery schools through universities. They do not allow women to be pastors. LCMS leaders have come out strongly against stem cell research. They have been described by U.S. News & World Report as "staunchly conservative on gay issues."
Sure, it makes us uncomfortable to bring up someone's religious beliefs—this is traditionally a private matter. But when private matters start undermining public policy (women's health) and when moral superiority is used to win elections (remember the moral values vote of 2004—the election that swept first-time GOP candidates like Reichert into office), it's time to make things uncomfortable for those who would force their religious values on others.