Tuesday, July 9, 2013

9/7/2013: Voting on Conscience vs Voting with the Whip.


As you know, I rarely post on matters outside economics (exception being my WLASze weekend links posts). The current, heated on both sides, debate about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is too often spilling into passion-driven mud slinging. This I find always disturbing in a civilised society.

I do not want to convey support for one side of the argument or the other. My personal opinion on this is probably irrelevant to anyone but myself, but given I am aware that it will be thrown my way once this post goes life, let me preclude any potential accusations and state that

  1. I am a socially liberal Libertarian and I am also aware of the deeply rooted ethical dilemmas involved in the issues when there is actual or potential termination of life at stake.
  2. That said, I tend to favour current legislation and this is my personal judgement not to be taken as any sort of endorsement.
With these caveats, as I pointed earlier on twitter: whether I agree with their position on the Bill or not, I believe that those TDs who vote on the basis of their conscience - be they in 'Yes' camp or 'No' camp - deserve to be respected. 

There are basically two types of issues, our legislators face: policy and ethical. 
  • Policy issues votes should be aligned with the TDs understanding of the specific policy benefits and costs to their constituents and to the nation overall. This is basic representative democracy at work.
  • Ethical issues are bigger. These involve fundamental values and can be associated with unresolvable dilemmas that cannot be called on the basis of plurality or majority. These must be determined on the basis of one's deeper convictions and the test of these convictions in a representative democracy comes with elections. 
I have said on numerous occasions that the Church and the State shall be always kept separate and this separation should be considered not only to sustain integrity of the State, but also to sustain integrity of the Church. 

However, we must recognise that people are free to hold a religious belief. When they do hold a belief - any belief - their acting on such a belief (e.g. voting on the basis of it) is not a reflection of the institution power over the State. It is a reflection of their belief. Separation of Church and State does not mean removal of religious beliefs from voters' choices. It means removal of the Institution of Church from directly determining outcomes of the State policies and legislative processes. 

The core test here, again, is whether a person (a TD) is voting with their conscience or with their institutional affiliation. Those TDs who vote with the whip are doing the opposite of what separation of State and Religion requires. They force Institutional consideration into Legislative outcome. Those TDs who vote with their conscience (again - regardless of whether they vote Yes or No) are doing exactly that which is consistent in principle with separation of Church and State - they put their conscience above the Institutional framework of the whip.

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