Pat's Pique: Robertson v. AU's Feisty Ferrets

TV preacher Pat Robertson simply can't help himself. When given the opportunity to discuss any issue involving the separation of church and state, he inevitably lobs falsehoods and personal attacks at his opponents. Instead of reasoned debate, Pat would rather assail the other side with ad hominem attacks and outright lies.

That's just what he did yesterday on his "700 Club" broadcast.

During the "news" segment of the show, "700 Club" anchor Lee Webb mentioned a case out of Texas, where a federal judge ruled that a Bible display outside a Harris County courthouse violated church-state separation. Kay Staley, the plaintiff in the case, described the decision as a great victory for religious freedom and diversity. She was identified as a member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

After the report, Webb asked Robertson what he thought.

"I think they're a bunch of left-wing former communists who are making all these charges," Robertson replied.

After bitterly attacking the ACLU and the courts for allegedly going along with the separationist agenda, he shifted his focus to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"The head of Americans – whatever you call that thing – United for Separation of Church and State," fumbled Robertson. "They took over a Baptist organization. Like, you know, little ferrets, they worked and kicked the people out and took it over. And they put in a former ACLU lawyer, and he has actually said that if a church was on fire, get this, if a church was on fire, we should not use taxpayer fire department to put out the blaze. Now, that's how extreme he is. I mean, he is a radical leftist."

That's the kind of discourse that is wildly popular among a faction of the right-wing. Offer up blatant falsehoods about your opponent and repeat them over and over again. And of course, don't forget to add some name-calling and Red-baiting while you are at it.

Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United, has never said that police officers or fire fighters cannot protect religious people or their places of worship. And Robertson knows that is the case. The TV preacher has leveled that same charge before, and Lynn has written to assure Robertson that he has never said anything remotely like that. It is a blatant lie. It is especially appalling that this untruth comes from a man who holds himself out as a Christian minister and an advocate of moral and ethical conduct.

Also, Americans United was never a Baptist organization, as Robertson claimed. Formed in 1947, AU was founded by a group of prominent leaders from various religious, educational, fraternal and public policy groups devoted to protecting religious and intellectual freedom by defending the separation of church and state.

As for our likeness to the animal kingdom: we are indeed warm and fuzzy here at AU, but we prefer to think of ourselves as watchdogs, not ferrets.

Public discourse in this country is not served well by prevaricators and demagogues. Robertson is free to articulate arguments on behalf of a closer relationship between religion and government, just as we are free to oppose him at every turn. But that debate ought not include outright falsehoods and hateful name-calling.