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Protect Separation of Church & State from Ashcroft

Jesus Is NOT "King" of Our Country

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, representing 4,000 atheist and agnostic members throughout the nation, as well as the views of some 29 million Americans who are not religious, is calling upon the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose the appointment of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General.

The Madison, Wis.-based state/church separation watchdog group issued the following statement:

* * *

To:

Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Room SD-224, Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510-6275
(202)224-7703
Fax (202)224-9102

The rights of the American people will not be protected but will need protection from John Ashcroft if he is confirmed as Attorney General. John Ashcroft should not be in charge of enforcing civil rights, protecting women harassed at abortion clinics, screening federal judges, and the constitutional separation of church and state.

If John Ashcroft is approved, the top policing power of the U.S. government would be in the hands of the U.S. Senate's foremost church/state entangler. The New York Times news story of Jan. 7, documenting that Ashcroft was handpicked by the Religious Right, points out that if confirmed, Ashcroft "would reach the highest office ever attained by a leading figure of the Christian right."

In Ashcroft's remarks at segregationist Bob Jones University, where he so inappropriately accepted an honorary degree in 1999, he revealed a breathtaking ignorance of the secular foundation of the Constitution and the laws of the United States that he would be charged with enforcing.

Ashcroft maintained, "We have no king but Jesus," a phrase he falsely contended "found its way into the fundamental documents of our country." Ashcroft told his Bob Jones University audience: "Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus."

In fact, America has been different precisely because it adopted a godless constitution investing sovereignty not in Jesus, a king or a divine authority but in "We, the People." The secular U.S. Constitution's only references to religion are exclusionary, such as that there can be no religious test for public office (Article VI). The founding fathers who threw off the yokes of kings and monarchies likewise ensured through our founding document that government and citizens would not be yoked by the tyranny of religion. The Constitution guarantees complete freedom of conscience.

Ashcroft's intemperate, inaccurate and inflammatory remarks at Bob Jones University raise a red flag that should alarm any thoughtful individual. Many U.S. citizens are unbelievers, Jews and other nonChristians who do not recognize Jesus as "king," nor do the vast majority of nominally religious, unchurched Americans.

As U.S. Senator, Ashcroft was responsible for engineering "charitable choice," the Religious Right's campaign to turn over billions of tax dollars to unaccountable churches and religious entities to proselytize recipients of government social services. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is particularly concerned with this aspect of Ashcroft's right-wing activism, because our group in October launched one of the nation's first legal challenges to "charitable choice," over public funding of Milwaukee's "Faith Works."

Ashcroft's "charitable choice" is a dangerously misleading misnomer, since Americans will have no choice in being taxed to support places of worship, contrary to the dictates of the First Amendment and many state constitutions. A captive audience of needy social service recipients will not have a choice when sectarian religion, prayer, bible study and other worship is forced upon them as a condition of help, since "charitable choice" legislation does not ensure recipients are entitled to a secular alternative. Employees of public-funded religious groups will have no choice when discriminated against in the religious hiring practices permitted "charitable choice" agencies.

Charitable choice amounts to a mandatory religious tax on the American people, and on the basis of Ashcroft's championship of it alone, the Senate should reject his nomination. Proposals to enlarge "charitable choice" would dismantle the Jeffersonian "wall of separation between church and state."

If Ashcroft becomes Attorney General, he would represent the Bush Administration and the American people before the U.S. Supreme Court, with disastrous consequences for our First Amendment. This is a man who told the Christian Coalition in 1998 that "A robed elite have taken the wall of separation designed to protect the church and they have made it a wall of religious oppression." As Missouri's governor, Ashcroft attempted to force his faith-based antiabortion ideology that a human being exists at conception upon the women of Missouri, and upon women nationwide in his capacity as Missouri Attorney General. He cruelly opposes the right to abortion in cases even of rape and incest! His devotion to a radical-right religious agenda likewise contaminates his views on race relations, the death penalty and other vital law enforcement issues of the day.

Senators do not owe Ashcroft any of their famous "old boys' club" collegial courtesy, given Ashcroft's leadership of vicious attacks during Senate confirmation hearings of nominees who did not share his extremist Christian views. Do not place enforcement of civil rights at the mercy of an extremist.

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