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Council proposal not Godly, but wise

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005

Though I'm no fortune teller, I clearly see a future on Grant Street in which you will hear more religious posturing than you would at a televangelist convention. There will be many appeals for God's mercy and accusations that city government is in concert with the devil.

How do I know this without a crystal ball or the help of Miss Cleo's Psychic Friends network?

It's easy. City councilmen Doug Shields and Bill Peduto have introduced a bill that would mandate a distance of 15 feet between abortion protesters and clinics, and eight feet between protesters and patients visiting those clinics.

The two East End councilmen were planning to hold a vote on the ordinance Wednesday, but they have instead opted to hold a public hearing on the measure.

What's most interesting about this legislation is the inevitable firestorm of opposition it will create.

The religious and the political are coalescing as furiously as a petri dish full of stem cells.

There's not a day that goes by when someone isn't saying how important it is for our country to rid the world of theocracies. We're often told that governments run by -- and for -- the advancement of fundamentalist religions are an affront to democracy.

So we shake our collective heads in self-righteousness at the religious laws forbidding women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, we pity Afghan women denied the right to an education by Muslim clerics.

Iran, it's been said, would be a better place if it weren't operating under Islamic law.

But here in Pittsburgh, and throughout the nation, Christian fundamentalists feel justified when they oppose laws protecting a legal surgical procedure.

Other denominations -- such as Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses -- prohibit followers from receiving certain medical treatments, but you never see angry groups of these folks trying to stop people who don't share their faith from seeing the family doctor or visiting the emergency room. Or consider how Hindu theology dictates that families cremate their dead, but I'm yet to see a group of Hindu activists trying to prevent a hearse from dropping a Christian off at a cemetery for burial.

As an atheist, I believe it's a king-sized pain to be subject to laws enacted at the behest of the religious. People can't purchase motor vehicles or homes on Sundays in Pennsylvania and, until very recently, state residents were denied access to booze on a day of religious observance atheists and agnostics don't recognize.

Even our broadcast media is influenced by watchdog groups tied to religious politicians, theocrats who, given half the chance, would use religion to control what we read, believe or even express privately.

So whether you support abortion, this latest piece of city council legislation is a good idea. Because if we're not careful about the way religion and politics are being confused for each other, we're all going to end up stuck with our kidney stones. Or worse.

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