Politicians Must Declare Religious Interests, Say Secularists

Politicians who are affiliated to religious bodies should declare on their nomination forms whether they will be primarily serving their religious beliefs or the interests of their constituents, says the National Secular Society. The call comes in a letter to the Electoral Commission, a government body that oversees the electoral process.

The NSSís concern has been prompted by the publication by the Vatican of a document ("Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life") calling for Catholic politicians to unquestioningly support Catholic doctrine.

The document cites abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage as particular as "non-negotiable" issues that Catholic politicians have a "duty" to oppose. Related issues are thought to include stem cell and embryo research. The guidelines make reference to concerns about "scientific progress" and also cite: "the emergence of ambiguities or questionable positions in recent times." The 17-page leaflet is approved by the Pope and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Inquisition).

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "This document is profoundly anti-democratic. Politicians have been elected to serve the interests of their constituents, not those of the Vatican. In Britain, and most of the rest of Europe, the vast majority of the population does not support the Catholic line on abortion, euthanasia, contraception and a host of other issues. It is an abuse of democracy for the Vatican to seek to control Catholic politicians like puppets in order to have its doctrines imposed through law or enforced in the actions and policies of public bodies."

Mr Wood said that what the Pope was doing smacked of totalitarianism. "To say that contentious issues are non-negotiable in a free society is unacceptable and repressive."

In the letter to the Electoral Commission, the NSS asks that politicians be required to declare any religious interests on their nomination form, and to state whether they intend to promote these interests over and above the needs and wants of the electorate.

Keith Porteous Wood added: "The electorate should know where their candidates stand. If a politicianís actions are going to be dictated by the Vatican Ė or any other religious body - then this needs to be clearly stated before an election. Were this to be required, it would be less easy for politicians to attain power under false pretences and then act against the desires of the people who gave them that power, unaware of their true allegiances."

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