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New DNC religion adviser opposed ‘under God’ in pledge

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Democratic Party has stumbled again in its attempt to reach religious adherents in an election year.

The Democrats’ new senior adviser for religious outreach, Brenda Bartella Peterson, supported atheist Michael Newdow’s effort to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, The Washington Times reported Aug. 4. Peterson’s endorsement of a friend-of-the-court brief in Newdow’s behalf earlier this year before the Supreme Court was reported less than two weeks after she was named to the post.

The revelation of Peterson’s participation in the brief came not even two months after Mara Vanderslice was marginalized as religious adviser for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry because of her previous participation in liberal protest groups.

The brief Peterson signed on to “shows infinitely more concern for the sensibilities of atheists like Newdow than it does for the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God,” said William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “Are [the Democrats] out of their minds? Would they hire a gay basher to reach out to homosexuals?

“If Peterson were a plant by the Bush camp, we’d understand it. What we don’t understand is political suicide.”

The New York-based Catholic League has led the way in revealing the backgrounds of Peterson and Vanderslice.

“The Democrats are now zero for two in appointing senior religious liaison directors,” Donohue said. “The selections of Vanderslice and Peterson suggest that either no one bothers to vet candidates for religious outreach or the elites making the choices are anti-religious. If the former is true, then this shows that the Democrats place no priority on appealing to people of faith. If the latter is true, then Kerry needs to bring in a big broom and clean house.”

Baptist Press requests for comment from the Democratic National Committee were not answered before deadline.

In its June ruling in the Pledge of Allegiance case, the Supreme Court ruled against Newdow, finding he did not have legal standing to represent his daughter in the challenge to the pledge. Newdow does not have sole custody of the girl.

When DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe named Peterson to the post July 23, he called it a reflection of the committee’s “commitment to reaching all people of faith and their participation in this election year. Brenda has dedicated her life to showing us all how religion and politics intersect with integrity. We are proud to have her join the DNC in order to spread John Kerry’s positive vision to people of all faiths.”

Peterson, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, served as executive director of the Clergy Network for National Leadership Change before joining the DNC. The network, started only late last year, is an interfaith group seeking to help choose a new president and Congress, according to its Internet site. When it was founded, the Associated Press said it was trying to become the “Christian Coalition of the left.”

After Vanderslice became Kerry’s religion adviser in June, the Catholic League reported she had spoken at rallies for the homosexual activist organization ACT-UP, which had protested during mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. She also participated in a December 2000 protest in Seattle against the International Monetary Fund and September 2002 street demonstrations against the World Bank and IMF in Washington, D.C. The Seattle protest turned violent, according to The Times.

After the Catholic League’s report on Vanderslice, the campaign cut off access by reporters to the religious adviser, The Times reported.

Peterson received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown College, which is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and a master of divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary, a Disciples of Christ institution. Her husband, John Peterson, is director of communications with The Interfaith Alliance.

James Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and now a professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School, is a member of the national committee of the Clergy Network, where Peterson previously served.

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