This week I had the chance to sit down with Ted Keene, a Catholic politician who describes himself as anti-slavery despite holding a 100% rating from the National Association for the Repeal of Abolition Laws (NARAL). The following is excerpted from my interview with Mr. Keene, who discussed faith, politics, and “owners’ rights” with End of All Things:
EOAT: Thank you for speaking with me, Mr. Keene. I understand you consider yourself anti-slavery, a conviction that stems from your deep Catholic faith. How do you square this belief with your opposition to abolition?
TK: Well, it’s true I am a Catholic and so I cannot support slavery. I believe it is morally wrong to enslave another person. But I would never impose my beliefs on others, nor should the government get involved in legislating morality.
So you do not support any policies or laws that would restrict the enslavement of people?
No. See, I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I respect the right of Americans to choose whether owning slaves is right for them.
But surely slavery itself is a grave injustice that infringes on the rights of the enslaved.
Yes it is, and don’t call me Shirley. [laughing]
[Not laughing] So is it not your duty to protect every person’s right to liberty?
The problem is that there’s a lot of disagreement about who we should consider people. As a Catholic, of course, I believe that every human being is a person with inherent dignity. But that’s a religious belief. I mean, look at how many abolitionists were religious! I can’t force that view on others — we believe in separation of church and state here in America, and I respect owners’ rights.
And you oppose any restrictions on slavery?
Yes, absolutely. Slavery should be safe, legal, and rare. The current system simply drives people to seek out back-alley slave auctions, where anything goes. Only by making slavery legal and accessible will it be truly safe for everyone involved.
It seems pretty unsafe for the slave.
Sure, but only if you accept the humanity of the enslaved. Again, a lot of people don’t, and I’m not here to judge. My job as an elected official is to be to faithful to the Constitution, not the catechism.
Well, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery.
That doesn’t seem right. I’m pretty sure you can’t change the Constitution. I just follow the Supreme Court on the matter — specifically in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Oh, and Roe v. Wade, because Americans have a constitutional right to privacy that should protect their decision to own slaves. And at the end of the day, slavery should be a private decision between an owner and his auctioneer.
So to sum up your views here, you believe slavery is an affront to human dignity, a grave injustice against the innocent, a violation of each person’s fundamental right to liberty, and that this should all be completely legal and unrestricted. Is that correct?
I see. Lastly, I want to ask about the Catholic Church. Should the Church get involved in the politics of slavery?
Not at all. It’s pretty awful that some priests even want to deny me communion. Don’t they understand that I’m personally opposed to slavery? The Catholic Church would do well to avoid controversial matters and instead make progress on issues that unite people, like women’s ordination.
[Snorting coffee out of nose] Thank you very much for joining me, Mr. Keene.
Thank you, it’s always nice to talk to another anti-slavery Catholic.