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August 12, 1994 Friday, FINAL / ALL, August 12, 1994

My liberal fellow travelers grow nervous: See, they shout, the precious wall of separation between church and state is being dangerously breached; the fundamentalist clerics and Ostrogoth followers are recklessly mixing religion and politics.

Of course, most of the national press and virtually all liberals revered and esteemed those American clergy - Catholic, Protestant and Jewish - who courageously made the Selma march with Martin Luther King Jr., who worked tirelessly to stop the war in Vietnam and who supported, through boycotts of lettuce and grapes, the unpowerful farm workers and their leader Caesar Chavez. When the cause is one liberals can embrace, the commitment of American churchmen and women is an admirable act of conscience. When the agenda is one liberalsabhor, then we have the makings of a frankly un-American religious crusade to "impose their views" on the rest of us.

In casting large public issues in moral terms, men and women of the cloth aresimply honoring an American tradition. The American politician who borrowed fromthe Gospel of St. Mark to tell us that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" was Republican Abraham Lincoln, and it was Democrat Franklin Roosevelt who proclaimed that "the money-changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization."

The dominant, secular elite seems to prefer the political leader with a religion so completely private that, as somebody once observed, he wouldn't impose it upon himself.

As an admitted and non-recovering American liberal, I've generally believed the following: Every individual person has the right to live free from fear and discrimination and the right to a share of earthly goods, including food, shelter, clothing, education and, yes, health care. Each person has the right todecent and productive work at fair wages, and every individual has the corresponding duty to work for the community good and to respect the rights of others.

This liberal concedes that the vaunted Invisible Hand can often produce a booming economy, but it is no guarantee of a humane and just community.

That liberalism translated into strong support for Bill Clinton's 1993 tax program based upon an individual's ability to pay even though the personal result was a substantial increase in the 1994 tax bill. It also leads to grave reservations about an administration that casually expands the death penalty, the ultimate act of state-sanctioned violence.

Up to now, the stated liberal positions have been orthodox and, for the most part, acceptable in good salons and better circles. But extend that belief in the dignity, equality and sanctity of human life to include - as well as protection of the widow, the orphan and the elderly lonely - the unborn child, and you court excommunication from the ever-shrinking American liberal fellowship, which now claims only one out of four American voters.

The sustaining right-to-life principle is morally egalitarian and, by definition, communitarian. Pro-choice, by contrast, is philosophically rooted inan individualistic right to privacy and freedom from community restraint.

It is altogether reasonable to question how we can call ourselves "pro-life" if we do not care about the poor, the immigrant and those suffering from AIDS. Unencumbered self-expression and unlimited individual autonomy, the philosophical premise of the pro-choice position, imposes no such similar civic obligations.

The argument that one's life is private and that one may do with it as one wishes was criticized by a leading non-Catholic American churchman as "the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned," onceargued the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The current political argument is not whether all abortions should be outlawed. There is no remote possibility of that happening. Instead, the debate is whether all abortions should be always lawful, as is now the case.

Mostly, if not conveniently, overlooked, only a small minority of Americans favor what is called abortion on demand, that is, surgical termination of the pregnancy at any time for whatever reason. By contrast, large majorities of Americans in every major survey do favor a waiting period and parental consent -and they do oppose public funding of abortions in any national health plan. Thestatus quo actually consists of "a minority imposing its will on the majority." You actually can be simultaneously liberal and pro-life. It's just lonesome.

The Plain Dealer