Voter scorecard informs Latinos about religious freedom threats

Washington D.C., Oct 25, 2012 / 11:10 am (CNA).- A group that works to offer a Catholic voice in the public square has released a new guide to inform Spanish-speaking voters of religious liberty concerns in the presidential election.

“Our Christianity – our religious fervor – is a huge part of our lives,” said Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, director of Hispanic Outreach for the Catholic Association.

She told CNA on Oct. 24 that Hispanic voters need to realize that the current administration “has been aggressive” towards religion, conscience and the Church.

Religion is “intrinsically” part of the Hispanic way of life, she said, and “it’s too central to our culture to give that up.”

Christie is currently using a “grassroots system” that reaches out through local parishes, pro-life groups and religious freedom rallies to distribute Spanish voter guides in the key battleground state of Florida.

The voter guide scores presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on seven key religious freedom issues, including conscience rights, abortion, religion in the public square, houses of worship and international religious freedom.

President Obama is given a failing grade for his policies, including the federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.  Romney is given an “A+” for his actions and pledges to uphold religious freedom.

Growing up largely in Mexico with parents from Cuba, Christie said that most Hispanics in the U.S. “have left their countries because of a lack of freedom” in the economic, political or religious realms.

It is important for the Latino community to realize that persecution can happen in the U.S. too, she said, pointing to the contraception mandate as an “assault on one of our basic rights.”

Despite controversy over the mandate, Obama holds a strong lead among Latino voters in recent polls. Christie said this is due not to a lack of values but to “a lack of information and a lack of education” within the Hispanic community about threats to religious freedom.

She urged Hispanic voters to listen to the message of the Church and to be careful about the ideas presented by the mainstream media, which do not share a Catholic outlook and are not always accurate on religious freedom issues that affect Catholics.

The Church has made tremendous efforts to raise awareness about the critical issue of religious liberty, Christie said.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, explained that the decision to publish a Spanish version of the voter guide sprung from the overwhelming success of the English version, which was released on Oct. 4.

More than 1 million copies of the English voter guide were requested for distribution, many in swing states, she said, and the association began receiving requests for a Spanish version as well.

McGuire sees the Spanish voter guide as an opportunity to reach an important demographic in the presidential election.

She explained that “the majority of Spanish speakers in this country are Catholic and deserve to know how the candidates measure up.”

The current admiration has been “deceptive” about the impact that its policies will have on religious freedom in America, she said.

“It’s hard for English speakers to navigate it all,” she observed, let alone those for whom English is a second language.

“I truly believe that Hispanic Catholics are the future in many ways of the Church in America,” McGuire said, pointing to the growing Latino population within the Church.

Therefore, she said, it is “hugely important” for these Catholics to understand the threats facing the Church in this country.

The voter guide is now available in both English and Spanish on the Catholic Association’s website and has attracted significant media attention.

While the Catholic Church “does not tell people how to vote,” McGuire said, it is important for the faithful to maintain a well-formed conscience.

She encouraged voters to look beyond jobs and the economy to consider “what is right and wrong on a fundamental level” and how each candidate will respond to these basic issues.

“I think that message will resonate with Hispanic Catholics,” she said.

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