The 2011 Session Begins
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
The 62nd Assembly of the North Dakota Legislature has begun. Let’s take a look at resources for getting involved and the make-up of the legislature.
If you have not already done so, sign up for the North Dakota Catholic Conference Legislative Action Network. You will get important information and legislative action alerts. You can even forward the messages to friends, parishioners, church groups, and others. Sign-up online at: http://ndcatholic.org/registration/, call the conference at 1-888-419-1237, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you signed up for the Legislative Action Network in the past, but are no longer receiving e-newsletters from us, we may not have your current e-mail address. Call, email, or re-register.
Even if you are a member of the Legislative Action Network you can get more up-to-the-moment information by regularly checking the Latest News page at: http://ndcatholic.org/latestnews/. You can also subscribe to this page’s RSS feed, which would immediately notify you of any updates.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference has a handy brochure size directory with the contact information for every legislator and state official. You can download it from the conference web site or request hard copies.
The conference also has a six page guide to the legislative process and how to become an effective citizen participant. Like the directory of officials, the Legislative Action Network Guide is available for download and in hard copy format.
Parishes can order large numbers of any of these items. Just call us.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference web site has even more information to help you become an informed and active Catholic citizen in the legislative process. Testimonies, bill information, district maps, and more are on the web site at ndcatholic.org.
The legislature itself has some useful tools online at: http://www.legis.nd.gov/. The two most useful sections are the “Session Quick Links” and the new “Contact Your Legislator” links. Both links appear on the legislature’s homepage.
The 2011 state Senate consists of 47 members; 35 of whom are Republicans and 12 of whom are Democrats. The new state House of Representatives has 94 members; 69 of whom are Republicans and 25 of whom are Democrats.
Twenty-five percent of the legislators are Catholic, which is about equal to the percentage of Catholics in the state. Within the parties, the percentages differ. Thirty-five percent of the Democratic legislators are Catholic. Twenty-two percent of the Republican legislators are Catholic.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. a new Congress is starting. North Dakota has two new delegates with Senator John Hoeven and Representative Rick Berg. As issues develop, the North Dakota Catholic Conference will post legislative alerts and contact information on its web site, in addition to the state information.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released the religious make-up of the new Congress. Slightly over 29% of the members of Congress are Catholic, which is slightly higher than the national adult percentage of 23.9%. Surprisingly, the party breakdown for Congress is remarkably similar to North Dakota’s. Thirty-four percent of the Democrats in Congress are Catholic. Twenty-five percent of the Republican members are Catholic.
Some may ask why information about religious identity of elected officials is relevant. After all, the fact that a legislator may claim to be a Catholic does not guarantee that he or she will vote according to Catholic principles. Moreover, a non-Catholic may vote in line with Catholic teaching 100% of the time.
Examining the numbers and trends, however, do tell us something about the place of Catholics in American society. Not too long ago in our history many Americans thought that it was impossible for a Catholic to be a good American citizen, much less a public official. Today, the percentage of elected Catholics roughly corresponds to the percentage of Catholics in the country and a majority of the Supreme Court justices are Catholic.
At the same time, the numbers help us tackle a larger question. Has the acceptance of Catholics in society come at the expense of the faith or does it reflect an acceptance of the faith by society? In other words, have Catholics shed their faith in order to get elected or have the voters become more accepting of Catholics and Catholic teaching in the public arena?
Your involvement in the political process can help determine the answer to that question.