Time to Get Involved
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
January 2009

Now that the 2009 North Dakota Legislative Assembly is in full swing, it is your opportunity to get involved in the legislative process.

In Catholic teaching, citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process a moral obligation. Indeed, the Church teaches that the laity has the primary responsibility of shaping society so that it conforms with the principles of justice, respect for all human life, and the common good.

Fortunately, North Dakota Catholics have many opportunities to make their voices heard. North Dakota’s citizen legislature and the state’s open meetings law means that citizens cannot be shut-out of the process. Moreover, the state’s small legislative districts create unique opportunities for people to meet and get to know their legislators.

Don’t assume, however, that these opportunities for citizen involvement mean that it always happens. Some people still feel intimidated by the process. Others feel that they do not know enough about the issues to say anything. Still others think that someone else is doing the work. Finally, there exist those who simply do not care.

For Catholics, not caring is not an option. The commandment to love our neighbor necessarily compels us to care and to act in the development of public policy. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, we must be the voice calling for public officials to respect and aid those in need -- the unborn, the poor, the marginalized, the newcomer. Catholics must speak out for protection of the family, religious liberty, and the common good.

If you feel intimidated by the legislative process, feel tongue-tied, or nervous when speaking to elected officials, consider yourself in good company. God’s prophets of the Old Testament felt the same way when talking to their society’s leaders. However, like Jonah, they learned couldn’t escape from doing Gods will. Besides, unlike Nebuchadnezzar, North Dakota legislators can’t throw you in a fiery furnace.

The Legislative Action Network of the North Dakota Catholic Conference can help Catholics get involved. By joining the network, members get:

• Regular e-newsletters with up-to-date information on the latest legislative happenings and upcoming events;
• Action alerts on bills needing special attention;
• A six-page guide to the legislative process and how citizens can make a difference; and
• A directory of state and federal elected officials.

Anyone can sign-up for the Legislative Action Network through the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site at: ndcatholic.org. Just look for “LAN Sign Up” in the menu.

The conference also has Legislative Action Network registration cards that will send out at no charge. You can use them to hand out at bible studies, and church meetings, such as RCIA, altar societies, Catholic Daughters, and Knights of Columbus. Parishes can order them for distribution to parishioners, such as in church bulletins.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference web site has lots of information for people who want to make a difference. The News and Updates page has regular postings about legislative developments, actions by the U.S. Bishops on public policy matters, commentary, and news stories from around North Dakota. The Legislative Resources page has material to download and important links about the North Dakota legislature and the legislative process. Visitors can also read testimony from past and current legislative sessions.

There really does not exist any reason not to become involved. Go and make a difference in the name of Christ!