Bush Backs 'Faith-Based' Program In Arkansas That Converts Jobless
Evangelizing for his "faith-based" initiative, President George W. Bush visited a church in Little Rock, Ark., in June where he hailed a welfare-to-work program that seems to contain a heavy dose of fundamentalist proselytism.
Bush spoke at The Church at Rock Creek, a Southern Baptist congregation that is home to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). During his remarks, Bush cited the church's welfare-to-work program, saying, "Government can pass out money, but what government cannot do is put love in people's hearts and hope in people's lives. What I am passionate about is how to capture this great strength of the country and help churches, synagogues and mosques interface with people in need. The best welfare programs in many places are really found inside houses of worship."
Added the president, "We don't want the church being the state or the state being the church, but we shouldn't discriminate against programs that come out of faith-based institutions all helping people to help themselves."
Bush administration officials have stated repeatedly that proselytism will not occur with tax money through the initiative. Yet that appears to be exactly what is happening at The Church at Rock Creek.
Baptist Press reported that, "More than 150 people have participated in the church's program and about 80 percent have trusted Christ as a result." Even though it is funded by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the church proclaims on its website that, "All aspects of the training incorporate biblical principles that align with God given gifts and talents to move to a long term plan for success."
During the event, several women who have gone through the church's program told Bush about their experiences and mentioned the importance of religion in their success.
Although news media attention has been diverted to the administration's "war on terrorism," Bush is still pushing hard for the "faith-based" initiative. Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told CNN in June, "I think the president has been very focused on the faith-based initiative. And it's kind of a pet project of his. If it weren't for his leadership, it wouldn't be going anywhere, I don't think."
Meanwhile, officials with the Department of Health and Human Service, working in conjunction with the White House, announced in June the availability of $30 million targeted to "faith-based" and community organizations.
The money will be made available under a White House project called the Compassion Capital Fund. The fund will offer nearly $25 million to 15 to 25 "intermediary" organizations that will in turn provide technical assistance and advice to faith-based groups. The intermediary groups will also offer grants to faith-based organizations for start-up of new programs or expansion of existing ones.
An HHS press release said preference will be given to groups that "address homelessness, hunger, the needs of at-risk children, transition from welfare to work and those in need of intensive rehabilitation such as addicts or prisoners."
HHS will also spend $5 million to create a National Resource Center "to support research into promising practices for intermediary organizations providing assistance to grassroots organizations and into the role that faith-based and community organizations play in their communities."
Americans United said the expenditures go beyond the congressional authorization for the Compassion Capital Fund and vowed to challenge any unconstitutional use of the money for religious purposes.
In other news about public funding for "faith-based" groups:
Government officials in Massachusetts are investigating Catholic Charities, alleging that the organization may have mishandled millions in tax dollars. The state's Executive Office of Administration and Finance announced the review in April, after auditors found 14 areas of revenue discrepancies in Catholic Charities' budget. The organization receives 70 percent of its money from government sources. Catholic Charities insisted that all its activities are appropriate.
A leader of a Hasidic community in New York has been sentenced to six years in prison for attempting to defraud government agencies out of millions in taxpayer dollars.
Chaim Berger, 76, of New Square, was also ordered to pay $11 million in restitution. Berger was accused of masterminding a scheme to bilk money from government housing, education and business programs that were aimed at low-income people. He fled to Israel when the plan was uncovered but returned last summer.
A Delaware minister accused of diverting nearly $150,000 in taxpayer funds to personal use has been found guilty and will probably face at least two years in prison.
The Rev. Lawrence W. Wright, pastor of New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Wilmington, received the money from the city in 1999 and 2000. He was supposed to use it to pay for a transportation project for low-income residents and repair a sidewalk in front of the church. Instead, Wright and his wife spent much of it at gambling casinos and gave the rest to Al O. Plant Sr., a late state representative who had helped steer the tax money to Wright. He also paid for repairs to his Mercedes and helped his son buy a house. Only about $10,000 was spent on neighborhood projects.
Texas GOP Platform Aims At 'Myth' Of Church-State Separation
Republicans in Texas have approved a state party platform that declares the United States a "Christian nation" and seeks to "dispel the myth of the separation of church and state."
Meeting in Dallas in early June, delegates to the state GOP convention, which is firmly in the hands of the Religious Right, approved a number of platform planks that opponents say are extreme. Aside from the "Christian nation" and anti-separationist rhetoric, the delegates called for official prayer in public schools, government display of the Ten Commandments, U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations and opposition to all forms of abortion even in cases of rape or incest. It also calls for "the return of Bibles and other religious books to the shelves of all public schools and libraries."
One Texas lawmaker, Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) said the platform does not represent most Texas Republicans. Wentworth, who is pro-choice, told the Houston Chronicle that while 100 people might vote in a GOP primary precinct, only a few voters turn out to elect delegates to the state convention.
"You're lucky to have six people out of 100 come back, and those six are typically the Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Christian Coalition religious zealots, and they elect themselves delegates and then pass these resolutions of the most extreme type," Wentworth said.
But Susan Weddington, Texas GOP chair, disputed that charge.
"Many of the people here are regular Texans," she said. "They're men and women faith is important to them, family is important to them. They want lower taxes."
In other news about religion and politics:
The Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board passed a resolution in mid May opposing H.R. 2357, a congressional bill that would alter the Internal Revenue Code to permit church-based electioneering. "The role of the church is to speak on moral issues but not to be a tool of political parties or candidates," asserted the resolution. "Such legislation would cause monumental strife and division within congregations."
Vision America, a small Religious Right group in Texas, has received an anonymous $800,000 donation to steer churches into political activism. The Rev. Rick Scarborough's organization, based in the Houston suburb of Pearland, plans to use the money to canvass 20,000 churches in Texas and host seminars for pastors across the state.
Scarborough, a longtime activist in far-right politics, claims the activities will include permissible forms of activism such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns.
U.S. Muslim groups are hoping to forge a voting bloc by launching voter registration drives. In June, 7,000 people attended a "Muslim Ballot Box Barbeque" held at a Dallas suburb. Organizers said some 5,000 voter registration cards were filled out. Nearly 50 candidates for state and local offices attended the event or sent representatives.
"We're just trying to get them to be Americans, to do their duty as Americans," said event organizer Jamal Qaddura. "When you do it as an individual, nobody pays attention to you, but when you do it as a group, people listen."
Former Religious Right leader Randall Terry says he wants to start a new career as a country singer.
Terry, the controversial founder of Operation Rescue who is best known for his strident opposition to abortion and homosexuality, told the Binghamton, N.Y., Press & Sun-Bulletin recently that he plans to move to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
"I care about those issues still, I do," Terry said. "But right now I just want to sing." Terry told the newspaper he has been writing songs and hopes to produce a recording of his own compositions.
The fiery fundamentalist fell out of favor with religious conservatives in 1999 when he left his wife and two children for another woman. He later filed for divorce and re-married. His actions led the Rev. Daniel Little, pastor of Landmark Church in Binghamton, to issue a letter censuring Terry.
Former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed has been named co-chairman of a new group of pro-Israel evangelicals. The organization, Stand for Israel, recently placed a full-page ad in The Washington Post highlighting a statement the Rev. Jerry Falwell made in support of Israel and contrasting that with an anti-Semitic comment made by Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. The president of the group is Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, who has worked with Religious Right groups for years.
Reed's support for Israel has won him plaudits from some unusual sources. The Anti-Defamation League, a group that has criticized the Religious Right for its anti-separationist agenda, recently paid for ads in major newspapers featuring a Reed column backing Israel.
Rev. Moon Celebrates 20-Year Anniversary Of Washington Newspaper
Surrounded by political leaders and lauded by a congratulatory message from President George W. Bush, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon marked the 20th anniversary of his far-right Washington Times at a gala in the nation's capital May 21.
Fawning coverage in the newspaper the next day reported that "more than 3,000 congressmen, state legislators and business and religious leaders from across the country" attended the celebratory banquet at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Attendees were serenaded by country singer Randy Travis and heard a keynote address from ultra-conservative radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger.
Bush, preparing to depart for a visit to Moscow, sent a congratulatory message calling the Times "a distinguished source of information and opinion" and "a forum for the debate of timely issues."
Among those in attendance were Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.); Rep. Thomas Davis III (R-Va.); Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.); Asa Hutchinson, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration; retired Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.); David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy of New Bethel Baptist Church, the District of Columbia's former non-voting representative in Congress.
During the banquet, "National Courage in Leadership Awards" were presented to the Rev. Floyd Flake of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Queens and Michael Joyce, a voucher advocate who now heads Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprise, a front group he formed to promote "faith-based" initiatives.
Founded by Moon in 1982, The Washington Times has never turned a profit and is kept afloat only by the Korean evangelist's massive personal fortune. The paper's circulation is about 110,000, and it is dwarfed by the dominant Washington Post, with a circulation topping 800,000. Despite its small size, the newspaper is influential among D.C. conservatives and is used as a vehicle to promote numerous Religious Right causes.
Moon has had little difficulty ingratiating himself with conservatives in Washington and top Religious Right leaders, despite his unorthodox theology. He teaches that he is the second messiah who has come to complete the failed mission of Jesus Christ. He also preaches that all religions should merge under his authority.
Despite these views, Moon works frequently with Religious Right leaders, many of whom he pays handsomely. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, for example, has appeared at numerous Moon events. Falwell once accepted a loan from a Moon front group to prop up his financially troubled Liberty University.
Other Religious Right leaders who have taken part in Moon events include Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed and Beverly LaHaye. Many former political leaders have also appeared at Moon events, among them George Bush, Gerald Ford, Jack Kemp, William Bennett and Alexander Haig.
In other news about Moon:
Moon continues to promote President Bush's "faith-based initiative" and is using the issue to win new support in the African-American community. At a conference held by Moon groups in Washington May 21, speaker Norman Macklin said blacks will benefit from charitable choice plans, a view that was echoed by Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a black conservative group.
Moon's influence apparently encompasses the Heritage Foundation, one of the oldest and most influential of the conservative think tanks in Washington. An ad in The Washington Times on May 21 noted that Edwin Feulner, president of Heritage, would be appearing at a conference titled "Korea, Japan and the United States in the Pacific Era." The conference, which took place the same week as the Times' 20th-anniversary, was sponsored by several Moon front groups.
Moon's attempts to create an earthly paradise in Brazil have run into problems. WorldNet Daily, a conservative news site, reported in May that Moon's Unification Church is under investigation for alleged money laundering, tax evasion and abetting illegal immigration.
Over the past few years, a Moon-related group called the Family Federation for World Peace has purchased millions of acres of land in Brazil and created a facility called New Hope Farm. The farm is eventually supposed to produce enough crops to feed thousands but right now is largely idle.
Last year a former Moon employee complained that he had been cheated out of his salary at the farm, sparking a government investigation into the facility. Earlier this year, Brazilian authorities seized the farm's bank records and raided a number of church-owned properties throughout the nation.
Brazilian authorities say they believe Moon wants to create a tourist facility in at the farm and is using the cover of his church to dodge paying taxes.
Bush Praises Baptists Despite Leading Pastor's Anti-Muslim Rant
President George W. Bush addressed a national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) June 11, one day after a denominational leader bitterly attacked Islam and told pastors attending the convention that many of America's problems can be blamed on religious pluralism.
The Rev. Jerry Vines, a former SBC president, blasted pluralism at a pastors' meeting June 10, telling attendees that people who believe in religious diversity "would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity."
Vines, currently pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., went on to say, "Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives and his last one was a 9-year-old girl. And I will tell you, Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."
The Rev. Jack Graham, the newly elected SBC president, endorsed Vines' comments, calling them "accurate." Muslim groups were outraged.
"It's really unfortunate that a top leader in a mainstream Christian church...would use such hate-filled and bigoted language in describing the faith of one-fifth of the world's population," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "This is the level of bigotry that requires a clear statement from the top leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention."
Bush has worked hard to win support among American Muslims and heavily courted them during the 2000 campaign. Nevertheless, he did not cancel his appearance before the SBC or allude to Vines' comments in any way.
Appearing live via satellite, Bush saluted Southern Baptists as "champions of religious tolerance and freedom."
Added the president, "Since the earliest days of our republic, Baptists have been guardians of the separation of church and state, preserving the integrity of both. Yet you have never believed in separating religious faith from political life. Baptists believe as America's founders did: that religious faith is the moral anchor of American life."
After Bush's remarks, outgoing SBC President James Merritt noted that the president is a Methodist, but added, "He's the closest thing we've had to a Southern Baptist president in a long, long time."
Contrary to Bush's speech, the SBC long ago ceased to be a supporter of church-state separation. In the 1980s, the denomination was taken over by fundamentalists who reversed all of the SBC's historic, pro-separation stands on church-state issues. The denomination now favors organized prayer in public schools, creationism, voucher aid to religious schools and church-based electioneering. Its stands are virtually identical to that of Religious Right groups, and the SBC's Washington, D.C., lobbying office works hand in hand with organizations like the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.
Not all Southern Baptists agree with the stands taken by the SBC, however. A moderate faction continues to hold to the traditional Baptist stand in favor of church-state separation. Moderates control statewide Baptist conventions in Virginia and Texas.
AU Lawsuit Blocks School-Sponsored Grad Prayer in W. Va.
Afederal judge in West Virginia ruled May 30 that a public school in St. Albans, W. Va., may not include school-sponsored prayer as part of its graduation ceremony.
Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia had filed suit earlier in the week, arguing that the school's plan to include worship as part of its commencement activities ran afoul of the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. agreed that the religious exercise was inappropriate for an official school event and ordered the school not to include prayer as part of the service.
"We're very pleased that the court agreed that public school activities must remain religiously neutral," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This ruling strikes the right balance."
The school district in Kanawha County has a policy that allows senior class officers to vote on whether to include a prayer at graduation ceremonies. The prayers are supposed to be "non-sectarian" and "non-proselytizing," and must be approved by school principals before the event. AU attorneys argued that the policy has the effect of promoting religion at government expense and is thus unconstitutional.
In his ruling in Deveny v. County of Kanawha, Judge Copenhaver said the county's policy is "plainly invalid" and problematic because it serves to "entangle the government with religion in constitutionally repugnant ways."
AU and the ACLU of West Virginia filed the case on behalf of Tyler Deveny, a graduating senior who objected to the coercive religious practice. During the ceremony, about 100 of the 226 graduating seniors stood up and recited the Lord's Prayer out loud, an action which drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
In other news about religion in public schools:
A federal court in Iowa ruled that Woodbine Community High School must end its 30-year tradition of singing the Lord's Prayer during graduation. U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle, ruling on behalf of sophomore twins Donovan and Ruby Skarin, who sing in the school chorus, wrote, "This is not a situation where the majority may rule."
Officials at the school had been advised by their attorney to drop the Christian prayer but voted to include it anyway. Randall Pryor, the school board president, declared that the prayer would stay in because "we are Christians" and said, "lawyers be damned." Board members are also accused of erasing a tape of a Jan. 17 meeting where the controversy was discussed.
School officials at a California public school have apologized for forcing a 10-year-old boy to copy Bible verses as punishment. The student, Matthew Pincombe, was given the assignment after a substitute teacher reprimanded him for talking in class. He told his mother, who notified the school.
Officials at Redwood School in Del Norte County said the substitute did not realize the assignment that Matthew copy Jeremiah 2:21 was inappropriate. The verse refers to a "right seed" that when planted becomes a "degenerate plant of a strange vine." Matthew's mother, Teresa Pincombe, said her family is Christian but found the content offensive.
"What really upsets me is the verse," she said. "He's not a corrupt vine."
Ashcroft Allows FBI To Do Surveillance At Houses Of Worship
Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced that he is relaxing regulations that prohibit the FBI from monitoring religious groups without first having to offer proof that they are engaged in illegal activity.
Ashcroft says the FBI needs increased ability to monitor religious groups as the war on terrorism goes on. But some Muslim groups decried the effort as an attempt to portray them as extremists and accused the attorney general of "religious profiling."
For decades the FBI operated under guidelines that prohibited agents from spying on houses of worship unless they could first show reliable evidence of criminal activity. The guidelines were adopted after revelations in the 1970s that the FBI had spied on domestic groups deemed dangerous by then-FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, even though some of these groups had done nothing illegal.
Although Hoover authorized surveillance against extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, he also permitted spying on organizations run by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., anti-Vietnam War groups and others that were not accused of unlawful activities. In light of the revelations, the FBI adopted new rules designed to curb surveillance of domestic organizations.
Ashcroft signaled that a change was coming in December when he told hosts on ABC's "This Week" program, "We will respect the rights of political freedom and religious freedom" but added that terrorists cannot "gather over themselves some robe of clericism...and claim immunity from being observed. People who hijack a religion and make out of it an implement of war will not be free from our interest."
The FBI says it needs to expand powers to combat terrorism, arguing that mosques are sometimes used for recruitment of terrorists. They point to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric now imprisoned for an attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Rahman reportedly recruited in mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City, N.J.
Muslim groups expressed concern over the announcement.
"Mosques, along with other religious institutions, are open to all Americans and have nothing to hide, but that openness should not be abused by using tactics of deception to spy on a religious minority engaged in lawful activities," Jason Erb, director of governmental affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Religion News Service. "We cannot win the war on terrorism by turning back the clock to the days when the FBI infiltrated groups and harassed individuals engaged in constitutionally protected political dissent."
In other news about religion and government:
President George W. Bush has signed legislation designed to protect tax breaks for clergy housing.
A bill affirming the exemption sailed through both chambers of Congress in April and May without a dissenting vote. The legislation was put on a fast track after a federal appeals court in California signaled that it might find the provision unconstitutional. The new law effectively makes the federal case moot.
The clergy have been able to take the deduction since 1921. It has apparently never been challenged in court, although some have argued that a special tax break for clergy raises constitutional issues.
The pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was apparently on President Bush's agenda when he met with Pope John Paul II in Rome May 28. Prior to the meeting Bush told reporters he intended to tell the pope he is "concerned about the Catholic Church in America."
"I'm concerned about its standing," Bush said. "I say that because the Catholic Church is an incredibly important institution in our country."
A coalition of Religious Right leaders met with Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, May 23 to ask him to crack down on sexual content on radio and television.
Concerned Women for America reported that representatives from about 20 groups attended the meeting. Among them were CWA President Sandy Rios, Jan LaRue, the group's legal counsel, and Robert Knight, CWA's Family Institute director, as well as representatives from the Christian Coalition, the Salvation Army, Morality in Media and other groups.
Jay Sekulow and other Religious Right activists have urged federal prosecutors to step up prosecutions of obscenity. Sekulow, who serves as top lawyer for TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, joined other anti-pornography activists in addressing a gathering of 93 U.S. Attorneys in South Carolina in early June. Attorney General John Ashcroft told the gathering, "Obscenity invades our homes persistently through the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and now the Internet."
Thieves Steal Cover From Ten Commandments Plaque In Pa. County
As The Philadelphia Inquirer put it, "So much for 'Thou shalt not steal.'"
Working in the dead of night, thieves in disguise pried an aluminum cover off a Ten Commandments monument bolted on the side of a courthouse in Chester County, Pa., in late May.
The commandments have been the focal point of a legal challenge that seeks to have them removed from the courthouse. On March 6, a federal court said the 50-inch by 39-inch bronze religious plaque violates church-state separation and ordered it removed. However, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled that the commandments could stay up pending an appeal, provided that the religious code was covered.
Local officials complied and masked the display with a $400 aluminum cover April 22. Thieves made off with it during the night of May 22.
A video surveillance tape shows two persons, both wearing sunglasses, hoods and hats, in the vicinity of the covering. One person stands watch while the other pries it off. The pair, who police believe are white males, were apparently aware that they were on video, as they looked directly at the camera on one occasion.
County police said the perpetrators face charges of vandalism, conspiracy and criminal mischief if found. In the meantime, the commandments have been covered with a piece of canvas.
The legal challenge, brought by the Freethought Society of Philadelphia, has stirred up strong emotions in Chester County. About 100 people gathered at the courthouse April 22 when county workers arrived to cover the plaque. Four of them stood in front of the display and refused to move. They were taken away by police and briefly detained, although no charges were filed.
In other news about religious displays on government property:
A federal judge in Tennessee has ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments from two municipal buildings in Chattanooga. U.S. District Judge Allan Edgar said the plaques must come down at the Hamilton County Courthouse and City Courts Building. The Hamilton County Commissioners voted to display the Ten Commandments after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Experience tells us that there is nothing more divisive than the interjection of religion into our government," Edgar wrote in his ACLU of Tennessee v. Hamilton County decision. "The controversy engendered by this Commission action is proof of this."
County officials had planned to appeal but now say they will remove the plaques rather than spend more taxpayer money on the case. Local activists with Ten Commandments-Tennessee (TCT) had offered to help pay the legal bills but backed out, saying they were not happy with the attorneys the commission chose to litigate the case.
TCT President Charles Wysong said his group raised $10,000 but spent it on other activities, such as printing paper copies of the Ten Commandments that are distributed to local churches. Wysong later admitted that he has also made money selling framed copies of the commandments but refused to tell the commissioners how much.
The county now faces legal bills that could exceed $80,000. Officials, led by Commission Chairman Bill Hullander, attempted to raise money on their own from private sources, but brought in only $2,130. Hullander later admitted that he has not himself contributed to the defense fund.
A 43-foot-tall cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego may have to come down, due to a ruling by a federal appeals court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc as a full panel, ruled 11-4 June 26 that the city's plan to sell the cross and a small plot of public land beneath it is unconstitutional.
The Christian symbol stands in a city-owned park and is maintained by a veterans' group, which claims it is a war memorial. The city had planned to sell the cross to the group, but the court ruled that the arrangement would be an illegal government subsidy to religion.
The sale, ruled the court, "enlisted the power and prestige of the City in support of the preservation of the cross, devoted financial resources of the City government to a sectarian purpose and granted the City property for a sectarian purpose." (Paulson v. City of San Diego)
U.S. Should Back Liberia, Robertson Tells Colin Powell
TV preacher Pat Robertson has written to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, demanding to know why the U.S. government has not backed Liberian dictator Charles Taylor in his struggle against armed rebels.
In a June 6 letter that Robertson posted on his website (www.patrobertson.com), the Virginia Beach, Va., evangelist charges that Taylor's opposition, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), is a front for the government of neighboring Guinea and its military ruler, Gen. Lansana Conte.
Robertson charged that the U.S. government is implicitly backing the LURD rebelsby sending non-lethal military assistance to Guinea and by helping train the Guinean army.
Robertson did not mention his substantial business interests in Liberia, where he has invested millions in a so-far unproductive effort to mine for gold. Robertson's partnership with Taylor has led him to overlook the Liberian dictator's dismal human-rights record and his long history of ordering the torture and murder of political opponents.
Considered an international pariah, Taylor is eager for any support he can get in the United States. Earlier this year he held a three-day Christian rally at a football stadium in the capital of Monrovia. During the event, Taylor called on the people to dedicate themselves to Christ. Robertson did not attend the event but sent CBN cameras to film it and aired flattering reports on his "700 Club."
Robertson is increasingly thin-skinned about his business ventures in Liberia. After Fortune magazine ran a piece critical of the Liberian venture and other recent Robertson business failures, the Christian Coalition founder penned a bitter letter to the editor asserting that the article was factually incorrect.
'Re-discovered' Jefferson Letter Shows Support For Religious Liberty
A recently re-discovered 201-year-old letter from Thomas Jefferson underscores the third president's strong support for religious liberty.
The missive, dated July 2, 1801, was sent to the Delaware Baptist Association; it was written in response to a note the association had sent to Jefferson expressing support for his strong stands in favor of religious freedom and congratulating him on his election to the presidency.
Baptists were an often-persecuted minority at that time and they were strong believers in church-state separation. Many were pleased to see Jefferson win the election of 1800 and wrote to express their appreciation for Jefferson's long history of supporting religious liberty.
Wrote Jefferson in reply, "I join you, fellow citizens, in rendering the tribute of thankfulness to the Almighty ruler, who, in the order of his providence, hath willed that the human mind shall be free in this portion of the globe; that society shall here know that the limit of it's [sic] rightful power is the enforcement of social conduct; while the right to question the religious principles producing that conduct is beyond their cognisance."
Jefferson goes on to write, "I rejoice too with you in the happy consequences of our revolution, namely our separation from the bloody horrors which are depopulating the other quarters of the earth, the establishment here of liberty, equality of social rights, exclusion of unequal privileges civil & religious, & of the usurping domination of one sect over another."
The five-paragraph letter was found in a box March 23 at Hollingsworth House, a Colonial-era home in Elkton, Md. The house is currently being converted into a museum, and volunteer Martha Alford came across the letter while searching through the box during a clean-up. A draft of the Baptist letter to Jefferson was also found.
The Historic Elk Landing Foundation, which is restoring the house, asked a document specialist at Christie's auction house to authenticate the Jefferson reply. The expert, Chris Coover, said the process did not take long.
"Essentially, I knew it at a glance," Coover said. "The handwriting is unmistakable."
The letter was not completely unknown before the find. The Library of Congress has a copy Jefferson made by pressing another piece of paper over the letter while the ink was still wet. But that version, known as a "press copy," is so light as to be virtually unreadable. A few newspapers also reprinted the letter in September and October of 1801, an indication that Jefferson may have intended for it to become public.
The Foundation plans to display the letter at the house at some point. For now, it is being stored in a safety deposit box.