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Vote, yes, but please study first

A few weeks ago I was with friends in a mountain town, soaking up the local color, when a woman in full stars and stripes regalia approached us.

Her: “Are you registered voters in the state of Colorado? Would you like to sign a petition to give local communities more autonomy?” (She shows us a stack of petition sheets full of signatures.)

Me: “More autonomy in what?”

Her: “Oh, it’s all written right here,” (points to her clipboard).

Me: “Do people actually sign this petition just because you say that it will ‘give communities more autonomy?'”

Her (cheerfully): “Why yes, they certainly do.”

[Meanwhile, my friend begins reading the petition. Stars and Stripes Woman immediately yanks it away.]

Her: “I‘m going to talk to those people over there. I don’t like your attitude. Good-bye.”

So apparently there are people—lots of them, given the stack of signatures I saw—who sign petitions on the street, simply because they are told that they will “give communities more autonomy,” without knowing how or what kind of autonomy or anything about what they are advocating. For all they know, their communities may be petitioning to withdraw from the state, or to secede from the Union entirely.

I have to admit that, if I were the Boss of Everybody, my first instinct would be to say that those people, whoever they are, should not be allowed to vote. In fact, maybe I would even make this a test. I would stand on street corners asking people if they will sign a petition to “give communities more autonomy.” If anyone signed it without question, I would immediately revoke their voter registration, and not readmit them to the polls until they had taken a course on American History, and written a five-page essay on “why I have no business voting if I have no idea what I’m doing.”

But I am not the Boss of Everybody, and a representative republic like ours doesn’t work this way. Self-government means just that. It works when we all participate.

But participating doesn’t just mean pulling a lever. It means studying the issues, and understanding the bigger picture of how government works and how various candidates and proposals will impact the way it works in the future.

I see many indications that this isn’t happening.

For instance, I see college students—and others who should be old enough to know better—suddenly enamored of this brand new, completely untried idea called “socialism.” Because, you know . . . free stuff! Free college! Free healthcare! Why didn’t we think of this before?

It turns out that we have an unlimited, heretofore undiscovered and untapped source of money in the coffers of certain individuals known as “rich people.” Thanks to them and their largess, we can eradicate poverty while enjoying lots and lots of free stuff! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. Those of us who study history—and current world events—know exactly what happens when we run out of “other people’s money.” And it isn’t pretty.

Worse yet, a government powerful enough to give you everything you want can also take everything away. And that includes not just your money but your liberty—particularly your religious liberty.

The current socialism “fad” is but one example of the damage voters can do when they are ill-informed about the consequences of their electoral choices. Voters on the left and the right seem to have forgotten—or never learned—why the United States was founded in the first place, the rights it was founded to protect, the proper role of government, and indeed what freedom really is. And we threaten our future by making ill-informed voting decisions based on our own interests (or ignorance) instead of respect for the God-given rights of every human person—rights this nation was founded to protect.

As I write this, religious colleges in California are fighting legislation that would subject them to “anti-discrimination” laws and lawsuits over traditional Christian morality—threatening their very existence as religious institutions. Other battles are emerging seemingly daily. And, of course, for the past 40 plus years the federal government has forbidden the states from protecting our most defenseless citizens—the unborn. The aged, the infirm are likewise threatened by impending euthanasia legislation, wherein they fear that the “right to die” will quickly become the “duty to die.”

And the list goes on and on.

As government grows bigger, the rights of the individual grow smaller.

And so, I am asking you to please, for the love of God and everybody else, educate yourself about what is at stake in this election. Study American history with your family, especially the story of our founding. (Hillsdale College offers excellent free online courses at www.hillsdale.edu). Study world history—and current world events—and see how various systems of government have worked out in other countries. Read and share the “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” at www.catholic.com. Pray for guidance.

And then vote.

Your duty to vote doesn’t begin and end in the voting booth. It begins with educating yourself, reading, becoming informed. Voting should be the culmination of a long process of study and reflection.

Your vote is a precious gift. Use it wisely.

This column was written by Mary Beth Bonacci.

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