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Jesse Ventura’s statements get abundant criticism

MINNEAPOLIS (BP)–A rising number of correctives are being directed at Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s belief that, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers,” voiced in an interview in Playboy, one of the nation’s most widely circulated pornographic magazines.
Ventura, among other comments in the interview, said prostitution and drugs should not be “imprisoning crimes” because the government has more important things to do, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
And Ventura, a member of the Reform Party, told Playboy the best part of his job is being “king” — “there’s no one in this state who can tell me what to do,” the Star Tribune reported.
Ventura’s view of religion being for the “weak-minded” is a slap at the nation’s founding fathers who were men of religious conviction, Judith Reisman, a leading anti-pornography campaigner, told Conservative News Service, which published an article Sept. 30 with a range of critics of Ventura’s claims.
“I suppose all the boys who fought in World Wars I and II were weak-minded,” Reisman continued in countering Ventura. “ Hitler wasn’t weak-minded, he didn’t believe in God.”
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in a statement to CNS, described Ventura as “an anti-religious bigot,” noting, “Fully 94 percent of all Americans profess a belief in God and most of them belong to an organized religion.”
The Catholic League warned, “What Ventura is saying is that organized religion has an intrusive, and therefore deleterious, effect on American society. To that end, it is only logical that he might seek to check its influence. … The Catholic League recommends that Ventura go back to professional wrestling where he belongs.”
The Minnesota Family Institute stated, “After the governor’s profanity-laced appearance at a recent World Wrestling Federation pro-wrestling event, we were told school children were running around a playground swearing and mimicking what they had seen,” according to CNS. “[Ventura’s] latest comments send a message to young people that prostitution and drug use are fine, and deeply-held religious beliefs and institutions which serve them are a sham.”
Concerning the issue of prostitution, a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, Wendy Wright, told CNS, “Prostitution is very destructive, not only to the women who are involved in it, but also to our culture. It views other people as instruments for your own pleasure, and we are seeing that mindset in Jesse Ventura.”
“Legalized prostitution,” Reisman said, “would be just another recruitment device for bringing children into prostitution, and an incentive for more and more adults to get their kids into prostitution. … Selling bodies is not a business. It’s inherently evil.”
(In the Playboy interview, Ventura said prostitutes could be better off if their activities were legalized so that they could unionize and receive various benefits that accompany legal jobs.)
Reform Party chairman Russell Verney said he is “personally outraged by [Ventura’s] remarks.” In comments to CNS, Verney said, “It is the complete antithesis of the Reform Party to attack organized religion, to insult people of faith and to suggest that under any condition the harassment or assault of women is excusable.”
The Reform Party’s national party press secretary, Donna Donovan, who is in the party’s Ross Perot wing, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “In one interview [Ventura] managed to alienate 80 percent of the American public,” although Minnesota Reform Party chairman Rick McCluhan told the newspaper that party members he had spoken to weren’t outraged, especially when the thrust of the governor’s overall comments are considered.
Anti-religious comments by Ventura surfaced not only in the Playboy interview — in which he also said of organized religion, “It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business. … The religious right wants to tell people how to live” — but also in Ventura’s attempts to explain himself Sept. 30.
In a late-afternoon news conference, Ventura said he expects the controversy to subside. “I think all the religious leaders will forgive me because I think that’s what religion’s about — forgiving,” he said, the Star Tribune reported.
Ventura also said, “I haven’t started any wars throughout time. Has religion?”
And his comment about being “king” was a joke, a line from a Mel Brooks movie, Ventura said.
In a letter to religious organizations and leaders explaining his comments in Playboy, the Star Tribune reported that Ventura also had raised questions about religious wars, in addition to contending that religions take money from desperately poor people.
“While organized religion has not been a major influence in my adult life, I respect the beliefs and choices of others, including my close family members,” Ventura wrote in the letter. According to the Star Tribune, Ventura wrote that his views on religion were shaped by his Vietnam-era military experiences when he witnessed “so-called religious leaders zealously marketing their beliefs to people too uneducated to comprehend what they were talking about and too poor to afford the money they were being asked to hand over.
“Yet there they were, handing over their last dollar for a baptism that they were promised was essential. And there were the religious marketers accepting that last dollar. I would think the spirit of religion would put the needs of people and families first and profit last,” Ventura wrote, according to the Star Tribune.
The Star Tribune quoted several Minnesota ministers’ reactions.
Eliot Howard, a minister of a congregation in the liberal United Church of Christ, told the newspaper, “In four years of governing, something’s going to come along as a tragedy in the state. I would hope he doesn’t have the lack of sense to appear at a public worship service or funeral to try to heal the wounds.
“We’re called upon to meet human needs and hurts and challenges,” Howard also said. “He ought to think twice before he slams the millions of people who seek to do those things. He has called upon the churches to take care of people in need. He may think we have weak minds, but we must have strong backs to pick up where government leaves off. He can’t have it both ways.”
David Tiede, president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, told the newspaper, “It’s very disappointing that the governor has no knowledge of the thoughtfulness of many religious traditions. It shows an ignorance on his part.
“The governor is not exercising very effective public leadership,” Tiede continued. “It does make it harder to seek common cause with him. We will try to work with him, but this arrogance makes it much more difficult.”
A Republican state senator, Dean Johnson, who also is a Lutheran minister of 26 years and a chaplain in the Army National Guard, told the newspaper, “In a state where over 70 percent is a member of some organized religion or church, the governor’s remarks have struck at one of our core values.”
The Star Tribune also quoted Dede Wolfson, coordinator at Minnesota Women’s Consortium, as saying, “What really troubles me is that Jesse has done some really good things that we like in the legislative process. But when he speaks publicly, he gets this wrestling, Navy mentality going [and] he says things that are really insensitive. I wish as a father he would think about it as how it would be if it was his daughter.”
Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner, in a statement suggesting that “maybe he should consider stepping down as governor,” said Ventura’s comments “show he has a fundamental lack of understanding of the world he lives in,” the newspaper reported. Ventura has shown “obvious contempt” for all people with deeply held religious beliefs, Eibensteiner said.
State Senate Democratic Majority Leader Roger Moe issued a statement reprimanding Ventura and suggesting that he apologize on national television, the Star Tribune reported, noting that Ventura is scheduled to appear on CBS’ “Late Night with David Letterman” during the week of Oct. 4.
To Ventura, Moe wrote, “Minnesotans do not embrace your views on religion, on women, on prostitution, on drugs, or on conspiracy theories,” the Star Tribune reported. According to the newspaper, Moe noted that he was particularly offended by Ventura’s comment about being “king.” “Governor, every citizen in this state has a right to tell you what to do,” Moe wrote. “And governor, you have a responsibility to listen to them.”
Another leading Ventura critic, Darrell McKigney, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said Ventura is making “an idiot … of all the people of Minnesota. We are becoming a laughingstock all around the country.”
The Star Tribune recounted that Ventura, in his autobiography, “I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed,” acknowledged smoking marijuana, visiting a prostitute as a young man and underage drinking. The newspaper recounted that in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings Ventura suggested that, had it been legal to carry concealed weapons, the killings might have been minimized. Ventura later apologized for those remarks.
During his campaign for governor in fall 1998, the newspaper reported, Ventura said Minnesota should consider legalized prostitution and marijuana, but did not take a more specific stance, except in such comments as, “Prohibiting something doesn’t make it go away. Prostitution is criminal, and bad things happen because it’s run illegally by dirtbags who are criminals. If it’s legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything any other worker gets, and it would be far better.”
Ventura continued, “The prohibition of drugs causes crime. You don’t have to legalize it, just decriminalize it. Regulate it. Create places where the addict can go get it,” the Star Tribune recounted, noting that Playboy asked Ventura when he had last smoked marijuana, used LSD or chewed a peyote button. Ventura replied it had been a “while ago,” that he hadn’t done most of those things, but had “smoked a joint, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Concerning abortion, according to an Internet site with various Ventura stances, the governor believes, “The decision of whether or not to have an abortion does not belong in politics. It belongs with the woman, her family, her physician and possibly her clergy.”

Ventura, in an Oct. 2 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” fielded further questions about his controversial statements on religion, saying he believes there is “no set example” of how Christians are to practice their faith, Conservative News Service reported. After professing a belief in God and Christianity, Ventura paused briefly and replied, “Ya,” when asked if he considered Christ to be the Savior, CNS reported.
Without citing specific religions, Ventura also criticized some religions as being in “the business of selling religion and religious beliefs,” though acknowledging that organized religion can be a positive vehicle for people who “want to strengthen yourself,” CNS reported.