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Ashcroft held to ‘double standard’ as cabinet nominee, Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Attorney general nominee John Ashcroft is the victim of a double standard that should prompt Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians to express their opposition to such treatment, Southern Baptist ethics official Richard Land said.

Pro-lifers, meanwhile, should be “very encouraged” at Ashcroft’s nomination, as well as that of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Land said.

He is offended at the “outright religious bigotry being spewed at John Ashcroft’s nomination,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land said he has heard Ashcroft criticized as a “religious fanatic” and “Bible thumper” on radio.

Christians who are similarly disturbed by such attacks on Ashcroft should let their senators and local media outlets know “just how incensed they are at this vicious bigotry and double standard,” Land said.

“When Senator Joseph Lieberman openly expresses his Orthodox Jewish faith, he is not described as a fanatic and a Torah thumper. Ashcroft and Lieberman are both men of deep religious faith who understandably bring that faith to bear on the public-policy issues facing our nation, albeit coming to very different conclusions on those issues,” Land said.

Lieberman, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, frequently professed his Jewish beliefs during his campaign as the vice presidential candidate with Democrat Al Gore.

President-elect George W. Bush nominated Ashcroft, a member of an Assembly of God church, to head the Department of Justice. Ashcroft, who recently lost his re-election race for senator from Missouri, had a strongly conservative voting record in the Senate, including firm opposition to abortion.

That record has elicited a fervent campaign to block his Senate confirmation. Among opponents of his confirmation are Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, People for the American Way, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual political organization.

Ashcroft is one of three Bush cabinet nominees against whom strong opposition is being mounted. The others are Department of Labor nominee Linda Chavez and Interior choice Gale Norton.

Chavez announced Jan. 9 she was withdrawing her name from consideration. Chavez had undergone criticism in recent days from unions and other liberal organizations for housing an illegal immigrant. The unions also had attacked Chavez for her opposition to affirmative action and minimum wage increases.

Ashcroft and Thompson were chosen for the positions “that most directly deal with sanctity-of-life issues,” Land said.

“As I have often observed, elections have consequences,” he said. “I cannot imagine a more dramatic and vivid illustration of those consequences than having Ashcroft replace Janet Reno and having Thompson replace Donna Shalala.”

Reno and Shalala served throughout Clinton’s two terms. Both were criticized by pro-lifers and other conservatives for decisions and policies during their tenures. Thompson has promoted welfare reform, as well as several pro-life initiatives, during his administration in Wisconsin. While some pro-life organizations have hailed his selection, others have expressed doubts because of questions about his position on stem-cell research on human embryos.

“Of course, the most important pro-life position in the Bush administration is the president-elect himself,” Land said.

He acknowledged there are pro-choice nominees to the Bush cabinet, “as there are pro-choice members of the Republican Party.”

“The big-tent theory means if they are pro-choice and they still want to be a part of the party that is hard-wired by its platform to the pro-life movement, then they are welcome as long as they don’t have the authority to stymie that pro-life agenda by the positions in which they are called to serve,” Land said.

Land also noted the diversity of the cabinet selections, who include four women, two African Americans, two Hispanics and one Asian-American.

“The most important thing about the diversity is that no one can question that all of these people deserve to be there,” Land said. “They weren’t judged by a different standard. … We should have an America in which, as Dr. [Martin Luther] King put it, people are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, whether it’s nonwhites who are being discriminated against or whites.”

The other nominees to the Cabinet are:

— Colin Powell as secretary of State.

— Donald Rumsfeld as Defense secretary.

— Roderick Paige as Education secretary.

— Donald Evans as Commerce secretary.

— Paul O’Neill as Treasury secretary.

— Christine Todd Whitman as Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

— Mel Martinez as Housing and Urban Development secretary.

— Spencer Abraham as Energy secretary.

— Ann Veneman as Agriculture secretary.

— Norman Mineta as Transportation secretary.

— Anthony Principi as Veterans Affairs secretary.