The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2006) states, “Catholics must participate in political life and bring to bear upon it – by their voice and their vote – what they have learned about human nature, human destiny, and God’s will for human beings from his self-revelation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is relevant for all times and all places.”
As faithful citizens, our political participation does not stop at the ballot box. The new legislative sessions in Washington, DC, and Harrisburg, PA, will present many opportunities to participate with our voices.
Legislation is introduced for many reasons. It might be in response to a perception of some need, or to show a public reaction to a situation or crisis. Legislators may feel they have to do something to correct a problem or to encourage positive change. Hundreds of bills on every topic are introduced every session. To become law, these bills must pass both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate by a majority vote then be signed by the president. Laws in Pennsylvania pass through a similar procedure.
Every legislator has different reasons for each vote. Individual lawmakers use many methods for determining what to support or oppose. But, one thing is certain – public input from voters in the district is one of the most influential factors. Legislators listen to arguments from different sides of every issue. Lobbyists and other experts provide points and counterpoints to persuade the vote. But often, the “squeaky wheel” principle plays a large role in formulating a legislator’s position. Simply put, if more constituents contact the legislator’s office to voice support for a piece of legislation, then the legislator is more likely to vote “yes.” It shows him or her that the issue matters to people back home.
This is where you can participate.
There are three easy ways to voice your opinion on important Catholic issues.
1. Write a letter. Even in today’s fast-paced high-tech world, a typed or handwritten letter is still a great way to communicate. Pen a few sentences telling your legislator how you want him or her to vote on an issue and why it is important to you. Legislators’ mailing addresses are usually listed in your telephone directory’s blue pages. Be sure to sign your name and list your address. The opinions of the citizens who live and vote in the district carry more weight.
2. Pick up the phone. Call your legislator’s office. Don’t be discouraged if you do not talk to him or her directly. The office staff is very knowledgeable about issues and is paid to keep track of public opinion. Your message will get across.
3. Log on and hit send. E-mail is the most effective and cost efficient way to voice your opinion. Log on to pacatholic.org and click “contact legislators.” By typing in your zip-code, you can send an e-mail directly to your state legislator.
Whichever method you choose, your voice will make a difference.
PCC Column February 2007 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.