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BJC’s Dunn opposes Ashcroft, calls nominee ‘unqualified’

WASHINGTON (BP)–James Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and current head of that agency’s endowment campaign, opposed the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general in testimony Jan. 19 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He declared his opposition only four days after current BJC Executive Director Brent Walker said the agency would not take a position on Ashcroft. Walker said the BJC questions whether Ashcroft could set aside his personal beliefs in order to enforce the religious rights of all Americans, though he said the agency does not support or oppose candidates for public office.

Dunn, now president of the BJC Endowment and visiting professor at Wake Forest Divinity School, told the committee he spoke for himself and was not representing the school. He did not mention his affiliation with the BJC, however, though his speeches and writings continue to be featured on the agency’s Internet site.

Dunn described Ashcroft as “unqualified” and “unreliable” to head the Justice Department. He criticized the nominee of President-elect George W. Bush for his identification with religious conservatives and his positions on church-state issues.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which replaced the BJC as the convention’s church-state agency in the early 1990s, endorsed Ashcroft in a Jan. 15 letter to members of the Senate. ERLC President Richard Land said in comments for reporters Ashcroft is a “man of sterling integrity and bedrock Christian faith” who “will provide protection for the constitutional rights of all citizens and enforce this country’s laws equally.”

Dunn was especially critical of Ashcroft’s promotion of charitable choice, which enables religious groups to receive government funds in order to provide social services. He said Ashcroft either misunderstands religious freedom or willfully opposes church-state separation.

The BJC served as the Southern Baptist Convention’s church-state representative in Washington until the convention voted to defund and cut ties with it in the early 1990s. Member bodies of the BJC include the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists, both which were formed in reaction to the SBC’s conservative resurgence the last two decades. Another member of the BJC is the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Ashcroft, a member of an Assemblies of God church, supports an accommodationist approach to church-state relations rather than the strict-separationist view espoused to different degrees by the BJC and such organizations as Americans United for Separation of Church and State. AU also is opposing Ashcroft.

Ashcroft’s opposition to abortion, homosexual rights and certain racial desegregation plans and a black judge has resulted in a vehement campaign against his confirmation by abortion rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, homosexual rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and liberal civil rights advocates such as People for the American Way.

Among the supporters of Ashcroft, in addition to the ERLC, are Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, National Right to Life, Concerned Women for American, Family Research Council and American Center for Law and Justice.

Ashcroft has served as attorney general and governor of Missouri, as well as a United States senator from that state. He was defeated in November in a race for re-election to the Senate.

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