When Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan were asked about their views on abortion during last night’s debate, Americans were given the chance to see two differing conceptions on the relationship between religion and politics. Take a look.

Ryan’s answer:

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, of 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.

You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, “Bean.” Now I believe that life begins at conception.

That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. 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 abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Biden’s answer:

… with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in 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 — the congressman. I — I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that

Ryan’s response:

All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

In Ryan’s view, there is no way to separate one’s belief that, say, an embryo is a human person from one’s approach to abortion policy. In Biden’s view, there is a way to separate the two: an elected official must realize that not everyone practices his or her religion, and therefore should not have to live according to its dogmas. 

I differ with many of my fellow secularists in that I think Ryan’s view cannot be easily dismissed. He — like many others — honestly and ardently believes that life begins at conception, and that abortion is murder. It is difficult, if not impossible, for such a person to sit idly by while abortions are happening left and right. That is simply how belief works: once you accept some proposition as true, you are bound to act on it. And there is nothing in the Constitution which states religious lawmakers are required to leave their consciences at home when they arrive at their respective statehouses. Secularists should realize this, and directly rebut arguments for religiously based laws instead of simply asking politicians to keep their religion at home.

However, Biden has a compelling point in regards to making laws. While Biden readily admits that he has religious beliefs, he also realizes that public policy influences the lives of millions of Americans of different backgrounds. As such, public policy should not be based on his (or anyone’s) religious beliefs, which require a personal leap of faith, but on arguments that everyone can grasp and understand. In other words, it should be based on reason and science. 

And for the record, Mr. Ryan, that does not mean simply telling the story of your wife’s childbirth. If you think beans deserve more moral and legal consideration than women, you need a better argument than “I looked at an ultrasound; you should to.” 

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