Over the last week, the events surrounding Terri Schiavo have led many Americans to question both their views on the sanctity of life and the government’s role in protecting life. While conclusions about the former must be reconciled privately between oneself and one’s faith, it is fair to say that, in the case of the latter, the government has moved one step away from being a democracy and one step toward becoming a theocracy.

This can all be traced back to the now notorious Election Day exit poll on so-called “moral values” that has inspired the most aggressive moral zealotry this country has seen in years. After trying to strip away the rights of gay citizens, women’s reproductive rights and imposing an almost Stalin-esque form of moral censorship on the media, the religious right’s power grab has finally culminated with the Schiavo case.

What would have otherwise been a sad personal tragedy of a brain-damaged woman who has reached the end of her life has been turned into a political comedy of errors that has taken this poor woman and turned her into a political football. This entire ordeal has illustrated the astounding hypocrisy of the religious right and the shamelessness of the Washington politicians eager to follow the church’s beck and call.

Let’s start with our very own President George W. Bush, who in signing off on the unprecedented abuse of federal power, said, “It is wise to err on the side of life.” Ironic coming from a man who mocked born-again death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker by pressing his lips together and whimpering, “Please, don’t kill me.”

Let’s move onto those anti-gay activists whose principal argument in promoting the destruction of gay rights is that homosexuality is, in their words, “not natural.” After all, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, as sign after protest sign told us. Yet keeping a vegetative woman alive by sticking a feeding tube into her stomach is somehow “natural?”

And let us not forget all of those Washington blockheads who whined and parroted incessantly about the evils of an activist judiciary, and yet seemed unfazed by the fact that opening the Schiavo case to federal courts represented an unprecedented form of judicial activism.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about this entire ordeal is that it comes against the backdrop of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, a program that actually helps those with a chance of living productive lives. The religious picketers are astonishingly absent on this issue, choosing to turn a blind eye as their Christian conservative representatives in Congress work to make life worse for everybody.

In the end, the tragic figure of Terri Schiavo embodies the utter lunacy of the extreme religious right. That they are content to see Schiavo continue to live in her vegetative state shows that their respect for the sanctity of life runs only skin deep. For them, life is only worth protecting in and of itself, but the quality of life that makes life worth living can be thrown to the dogs.

It’s this sort of twisted logic that has driven the pro-life movement. Pro-life crusaders have tried to reframe the abortion debate as being an epic battle between those who are pro-baby and pro-baby killing. Yet they have failed to give credence to the fact that one of the best ways to reduce the number of abortions is to increase the standard of living to where people feel like they can keep what would otherwise be unwanted children. Their battle cry is “The right to live!” when a more accurate extension of that slogan would be “The right to live poorly.”

Contrary to the beliefs of the religious right and the Washington hypocrites who are eager to curry favor with this electorate, the Christian conservatives do not hold a monopoly on faith and morality. Some of us believe that sometimes the best way to pay respects to a life is by allowing an honorable and natural death.

Either way, this entire ordeal has demonstrated that there is little that is more amoral than the politics of “morality.”

Neil Visalvanich is a Daily Nexus columnist.