Here's what the debating VP candidates had to say about their religious views informing their positions on abortion:
MS. RADDATZ: ... I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. ...
REP. RYAN: I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.
Now, you want to ask basically why I'm pro-life? It's not simply because of my Catholic faith. That's a factor, of course, but it's also because of reason and science ...
Now, I understand this is a difficult issue. And I respect people who don't agree with me on this. But the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: My religion defines who I am. And I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can't take care of themselves, people who need help.
With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church's position on abortion as a — what we call de fide (doctrine ?). Life begins at conception. That's the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.
I'd like to hear what you all think of the exchange. I don't know whether I expect religious people to absolutely remove their religious background beliefs from influencing their views on public policy.
One argument for a no-influence/pro-Biden view might look like this: In a pluralistic society with a secular government, voters/representatives should be expected to give a justification for their public policy views whose acceptance doesn't require adopting assumptions peculiar to a particular religious tradition. This is especially so for laws that restrict the liberties of others, including many who don't accept those religious assumptions.
One argument for a pro-influence/Ryan view might be: Religion has shaped society's moral views throughout history, the present day included, and our moral views in turn influence our judgments on laws and policy. It's both unobtainable in practice and undesirable as an ideal to entirely divorce the two. The question in particular of whether potentially millions of innocent lives belong to the human community and therefore deserve protection is the kind of public policy that religious sensibilities should inform.
Hopefully, that's a convo starter and I'm interested to hear thoughts in the comments.
Finally, if you're interested, here's an interesting speech by Mario Cuomo, a practicing Catholic governor at the time, given to NOtre Dame University re: his religious beliefs and being pro-choice.