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by Glory Turnbull

Julie Hanlon Rubio, Ph.D.
Julie Hanlon Rubio, Ph.D.

While there’s no perfect way to “Vote Catholic,” theologian Julie Hanlon Rubio, Ph.D., proposes a framework for helping the faithful make tough decisions during election season. Rubio is a Professor of Social Ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. She has written four books about family, politics, feminism and Catholic social ethics. After visiting St. Mary’s University to present on the centennial of the women’s suffrage amendment, we caught up with the Catholic ethics expert.

Q: On Aug. 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, which prohibited denying citizens the right to vote based on sex. How have you seen young people today connect with their right to vote?

A: I hope for people to go back to suffrage and remember how long and how hard people fought for their right to vote. When it comes to engagement, young people will often say, “I just turned 18, where do I start?” And my answer to them is to remember what people have suffered. Voting is how we have, and how we continue to fight. Think first about the vulnerable.

Q: Is it possible to vote Catholic? If so, how is that achieved?

A: Well, they don’t give you a formula. Figuring out how to vote Catholic isn’t math, it’s a framework. We must care for the dignity of the person as an inalienable right that we all have as human beings, which cannot be lost or taken away. We must care for all life, and we must have solidarity. The reality of humanity is connection, not isolation. Because of our connectivity, we cannot be selfish — we must do what’s best for the common good and the most vulnerable. There’s often lots of space between someone’s principles and their vote. We can expect a lot of diversity in how Catholics vote, reflecting the diversity of Catholic belief.

Q: Do you find that young people tend to engage less with politics?

A: I have seen that young people are becoming less engaged for a variety of reasons. Political corruption gives young adults a sense that their voices do not matter, which can lead to apathy or inaction. I find hope in the way that some students are becoming re-engaged with politics. After hitting what seems to be a low point, students are expressing that they want to become active in politics. Some of caring about politics is recognizing its complexity, and that complexity doesn’t always equate to sliminess or dishonesty.

Q: How do we become re-engaged with politics? What advice do you have about enacting change?

A: We need to realize that we don’t have the right to not care. There are too many people who depend on our caring. In terms of action, I would advise students to start with local politics. National conversations can be very polarized. Single-family zoning, for example, is a local problem. Not everyone is privileged enough to afford a space to themselves, but they can’t share spaces with others because of how a building is zoned. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s something concrete that you know is making a change.


To take advantage of your next opportunity to vote, visit the Bexar County Elections Department website for more information.

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