September 1999 Church & State | People & Events

Religious Right Chafes Under GOP's Push Toward Bush

Conventional wisdom holds that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is a shoo-in for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the year 2000, but if some Religious Right leaders have their way, Bush may encounter some bumps along the road.

Frustrated over the seeming inevitability of a Bush candidacy, several Religious Right figures have lately begun to take shots at the front-runner and criticize the party for lining up behind him.

On July 13, New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith publicly quit the GOP and blasted the party for not doing enough to advance the Religious Right's social agenda.

Smith had been seeking the GOP nomination himself and was frustrated by low poll numbers and name recognition. He charged that the Republicans were not giving Bush's contenders a chance and criticized the Texas governor for taking vague stances on contentious issues like abortion.

"I've come to the cold realization that the Republican Party is more interested in winning elections than supporting the principles of its platform," said Smith. "It's just a charade. The Republican platform is a meaningless document that has been put out there so suckers like me -- and maybe suckers like you out there -- can read it."

Smith blasted the GOP for not doing enough to make abortion illegal. He noted that he was one of only three Republican senators to oppose the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, saying, "I voted against Ginsburg because, like the Republican platform says, I want judges who respect the sanctity of innocent human life."

The GOP's pro-life platform plank, Smith said, "isn't worth the paper it's written on."

Smith has announced that he will seek the presidential nomination of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, a small party of ultra-conservatives founded by Religious Right operative Howard Phillips. The party, which ran Phillips for president in 1992 and '96, is currently working to win ballot access in all 50 states.

That same day, former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer blasted Bush and blamed him for Smith's departure from the GOP.

Bauer, who is also seeking the Republican presidential nomination, told The Washington Times, "George W. Bush has been effectively in charge of the Republican Party for about four months now, and so, after four months of a Bush Republican Party, the only measurable result we've got is that Republicans have one fewer senator in Congress, which is not a good start."

Bauer said if Bush fails to stake out conservative positions on social and economic issues he won't work for the ticket.

"I will stay in the Republican Party," said Bauer, "but I am not going to use a lifetime of credibility I've built up in and out of government to help the party establishment deceive conservative voters. I'll go fishing with my son on Election Day and catch up on family matters."

Bauer criticized Bush most severely for his stand on abortion as a litmus test for Supreme Court appointments. Although Bush opposes abortion, he has refused to say he would appoint only nominees who share that view.

When Bush uttered that statement, charged Bauer, he "signaled that he is not willing to weigh the cultural issues in whom he puts on the court."

Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly is also upset over the GOP stampede to anoint Bush. In a July letter to supporters, she blasted Bush and the Republican Party for allegedly covering up issues of "foreign policy, foreign wars, foreign trade and foreign handouts. Despite our two-party system, there is a curious unwillingness to confront Clinton on these major national issues that affect the lives of our servicemen, our tax burden, our jobs, and the future of American sovereignty."

Some Republican strategists are worried that the Religious Right may bolt the party. In July reports circulated that Pat Buchanan was considering seeking the nomination of Ross Perot's Reform Party, but Buchanan insisted he has no intention of leaving the GOP.

"I'll be blunt here," Frank Luntz, a party pollster, told The Washington Times. "Gov. Bush is going to be the next president unless there is a strong right-wing, third-party challenge. The only way for Al Gore to win is for the Republican Party to split itself."

Conservative columnist Tony Snow criticized Smith and other "Taliban Republicans" for their rigid views. "The Taliban Republicans take a dark view of human nature," Snow wrote. "They consider the rest of us a bunch of potential dupes and regard society as a stew of corrupting influences. They look upon government as the ultimate street cleaner and see nothing untoward in declaring the moral equivalent of martial law: Jail the sinners, elevate the saints, establish the rule of the righteous, and do it all before the next sunrise."

Appeals Court Allows 'Student-Led' Prayers In Alabama Schools

Alabama teachers and other school officials may not prescribe religious worship, but "student-initiated" prayer is permissible as long as it is "non-proselytizing," a federal appellate court has ruled.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said July 13 that a federal district court injunction in the Chandler v. James case unduly restricted student religious speech and sent the case back for revision.

Americans United, which sponsored the lawsuit along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the latest decision leaves in place many church-state safeguards but also raises serious constitutional questions.

"This decision is a decidedly mixed bag," observed Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "We are pleased that the appellate court recognized that school officials may not promote prayer and other religious activities or enlist students to do so. However, we are troubled by some of the court's confusing language, which seems to allow inappropriate student-led religious activities at school events."

Lynn expressed concern about the appellate court's apparent hostility toward church-state separation and its seeming indifference to the rights of religious minorities who may not want to be subjected to religious pressures while attending public school classes and other events.

Although the three-judge panel declared that "The Constitution requires that schools permit religious expression, not religious proselytizing," it also went on to say that forbidding students from reciting prayers even in compulsory settings would result "in the 'establishment of disbelief' -- atheism -- as the State's religion."

The court also criticized Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation between church and state," writing, "The Constitution probably does not require a 'wall' at all." Students who do not want to be exposed to prayer and religion at school "are free not to listen, and to express their disagreement by not participating in any way," said the court.

Responded Lynn, "Public schools are not churches, and students should never be made a captive congregation for religious worship and sermonizing. I don't think the appellate court fully understood what was at issue in this case. We will take the necessary legal steps to see that this decision does not undercut the religious neutrality of our public schools."

The Chandler case was filed in 1996 when Michael Chandler and his son objected to school-sanctioned Christian prayer, Bible distribution, religiously based student assemblies and other religious activities in the DeKalb County public schools. The lawsuit also challenged a 1993 Alabama law allowing student-led prayer at "compulsory or non-compulsory" school events such as graduation and athletic contests.

In fall of 1997, U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent took strong judicial action to correct the constitutional violations. Among his actions were:

 Striking down the state statute and barring state sponsorship of religious activities,

 Barring distribution of Gideon Bibles (including the throwing of Bibles through school bus windows, a practice attempted to evade constitutional barriers),

 Prohibiting school officials from allowing students to lead prayers at school events, and

 Appointing a monitor to ensure that his order was enforced.

Americans United's Lynn said Judge DeMent's core decisions remain in place. Lynn dismissed claims by Alabama Attorney General William Pryor and Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice that the appeals court decision was a major victory for their side.

"The appeals court left in place broad restrictions on school sponsorship of religion," said Lynn. "Pryor and his Religious Right cronies have completely failed to get school-sponsored religion back in Alabama's public schools. I can't imagine why they're crowing about this."

Last month attorneys with Americans United and the ACLU filed legal briefs asking the entire 11th Circuit panel to hear the controversy.

Iowa Christian Coalition In Disarray After Forbes 'Dirty Tricks' Flap

The state director and entire board of directors of the Christian Coalition of Iowa have been ousted after the director accused Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes of unethical conduct.

Iowa's flamboyant CC director, Bobbie Gobel, was fired by officials at the national office after she refused to step down. Gobel sparked controversy and headlines in July when she claimed that a Forbes aide had approached her with an offer to hire people from her temporary agency to vote in the GOP's Aug. 14 straw poll. Though non-binding, the poll is considered an important bellwether of early strength in Iowa.

Forbes vehemently denied the charge, and the Christian Coalition's national office issued a statement over Gobel's name retracting her comments. But Gobel later repudiated the statement, saying, "I was told to go along with it. I don't go along with it. I'd rather burn a bridge than burn my country."

Gobel, known for her aggressive, shoot-from-the-hip style, has refused to accept the firing, even though the Coalition has formed a new affiliate under the temporary command of Ione Dilley, a longtime Religious Right activist in the state and Gobel's predecessor at the Iowa chapter.

The ousted Coalition director insists that the national CC office had no right to fire her; she has promised to continue using the name Christian Coalition until a federal court tells her to stop.

Forbes and Gobel have been at loggerheads before. The ex-Coalition head has publicly criticized Forbes, a millionaire businessman who criticized Robertson and the Coalition during his 1996 run, for his last-minute conversion to Religious Right issues. She noted recently that in New Jersey Forbes supported Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who is pro-choice on abortion.

"I cannot say that Steve Forbes is one of us," Gobel said. "He is not an evangelical. He is not a conservative Christian."

Forbes, who has struggled to line up Religious Right support, was outraged.

Gobel's brief reign at the Iowa Christian Coalition has been colorful to say the least. In an Aug. 1 Des Moines Register story, Gobel denied that she was forced out of a Des Moines church due to moral problems. She said she was praying for a fellow parishioner and "I embraced him, and they thought I was putting my large breast in his face. I had not fallen from the Lord."

Before her ouster, Gobel had tried to put a positive spin on the Coalition's tax and personnel problems. "[W]hen you are born again and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ," she told the Register, "you know this is spiritual warfare. In spiritual warfare, God turns bad things around for the good."

TVC's Sheldon Hits The Jackpot With Money From Casinos

Religious Right leader Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition has come under fire after a California newspaper reported that he and his son have accepted contributions from casinos for organizing efforts to oppose the legalization of other forms of gambling.

The Orange County Register reported last month that casino gambling interests have secretly paid Sheldon's son Steve $156,000 since 1993 to persuade religious groups to oppose "card clubs" in California. The paper reported than an additional $20,000 of gambling money went directly to Lou Sheldon's TVC -- $10,000 from a racetrack in 1994 and $10,000 in 1998 from a front group set up by Nevada casinos to fight a ballot proposal that would have allowed Indian tribes to sponsor gambling.

"To the best of my recollection, the Rev. Sheldon helped outline some of the views of his group on this issue and helped us develop arguments," said Gina Stassi, a public relations professional who worked with the casinos to oppose the ballot proposition. "So he was basically a consultant and also assisted us in outreaching to some of the Christian and religious groups."

The casinos are eager to stop any expansion of legalized gambling in California, since the competition might decrease their business. They hoped to galvanize religious opposition to the expansion of gambling and enlisted Steve Sheldon, who serves as a legal consultant to TVC, apparently hoping to influence Lou Sheldon as well. Steve Sheldon took on the assignment, but, the newspaper reported, he worked hard to make sure the churches he worked with did not know he was on the casinos' payroll.

Information about the Sheldons' ties to casino interests came to light only because the state's Fair Political Practices Commission conducted an investigation into a 1995 card-club ballot measure in Pico Rivera. During a deposition, a casino lobbyist described how he had hired Steve Sheldon to "provide me as much information and detail as he could about what was happening in the city of Pico Rivera."

Other casino lobbyists said they regarded Steve Sheldon as a pipeline to his father. "I never had a direct conversation with Lou," said Charles G. Westlund Jr., a consultant to the gambling industry. "However, it was clear what you were hiring Steve Sheldon to do. And then Lou Sheldon would turn up at the (anti-gambling) rallies. I hired Steve Sheldon and A former attorney who once worked for the Commerce Casino was more blunt. "God for hire, that's what I call it," said Hal Mintz, who worked with Steve Sheldon in 1995. "Everyone said, 'Steve's not too important, but his dad is.'...You wouldn't buy Steve unless you could buy Lou (too). Everybody knows that."

A minister in Pico Rivera said Steve Sheldon called him in 1995, mentioned his father and asked the minister to join an effort to oppose an effort to allow card clubs in the community. The minister, the Rev. Richard Ochoa, told the Register that Steve Sheldon never mentioned his funding from the casino industry and if he had "I would have ousted him on the spot."

Lou Sheldon insisted that he was not influenced by his son. "All allegations," he said. "No comment. That's what our lawyer said. Totally allegations, and they never went anywhere."

Asked about a $10,000 contribution he had accepted from Hollywood Park Racetrack in 1994, the elder Sheldon replied, "Politics makes strange bedfellows. The devil had that money long enough. It was about time we got our hands on it."

He added, "We want to stop the expansion of gambling....If we can cut a deal with Hollywood Park (like) we did a number of years ago, that's fine with us. If they can meet our standard, we will accept a donation from them to help us fulfill our mission."

But one religious leader who works full time opposing the spread of legalized gambling disagreed with Sheldon's rationale. "This is a product that brings addiction, bankruptcy, crime and corruption," said the Rev. Tom Grey, head of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "If you take the industry's money to fight it, you corrupt the message."

In other news about TVC, the organization has apparently decided to launch a witch hunt -- literally. On July 7, 1999, TVC mailed a fund-raising letter, signed by Lou Sheldon's daughter Andrea, who serves as the organization's lobbyist in Washington, claiming that a witch is casting evil spells over the Senate.

Andrea Sheldon talked about observing the Senate deliberate a bill designed to combat juvenile crime and wrote that during the first few days of debate, "I could not believe the spirit of confusion that seemed to control the Senate. I do not remember a time when I sensed such confusion."

Continued Sheldon, "One morning I was waiting to speak with a Senator when I noticed a woman, who I had seen for years and always felt an emanating bad spirit. She had been walking around the room and then sat down and gave the appearance of praying. When I approached to speak to her, her face became contorted and she raised her hand to strike me. Shortly after that encounter I was told she is a witch who comes to the Senate every day and congers [sic] up evil spirits. She has a counterpart who joins her every Tuesday. It became clear to me then why there was such a spirit of confusion."

Americans United Challenges Ohio Voucher Plan In Federal Court

Americans United and a coalition of civil liberties and public education groups filed a lawsuit July 20 in federal court challenging voucher aid to religious schools in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Harris-Simmons v. Zelman case, filed on behalf of three parents and taxpayers, marks the first federal court test of a state program offering voucher assistance to religious education. The complaint was filed in Cleveland at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

In the suit, Americans United and allied groups charge that diverting public funds to religious schools violates the church-state separation provision of the U.S. Constitution.

"Ohio taxpayers should never be forced to contribute their hard-earned dollars to a church or church school," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Vouchers violate the Constitution and jeopardize our vital public school system.

"I firmly believe the federal courts will uphold the separation of church and state," continued Lynn. "The Constitution simply does not permit politicians to force Americans to pay for religious instruction."

Vouchers were authorized in Ohio under the Ohio Pilot Project Scholarship Program, which the legislature passed 1995. The program issues vouchers of up to $2,500 for Cleveland students to attend religious and other private schools. After the plan passed, Americans United and other organizations filed suit against it in state court, and on May 27 the voucher measure was struck down on a technicality by the Ohio Supreme Court. However, in its decision the court said vouchers do not violate church-state separation.

In the wake of the ruling, Ohio lawmakers quickly passed new legislation reapproving the voucher plan, which was signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft (R).

Organizations joining Americans United in the new lawsuit include the Ohio Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and People For the American Way.

Convicted Murderer Working On Staff Of Ohio Voucher School

A convicted murderer and drug dealer has been working on the staff of a private Islamic school that is receiving taxpayer funding under Ohio's voucher program, a newspaper investigation has uncovered.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in July that the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences had hired Judah Shurney, 68, as a historian and lecturer. Shurney was convicted of first-degree murder for a 1964 barroom shooting and served 10 years of a life sentence. In 1987, he was convicted of selling marijuana to an undercover police officer and served 18 months behind bars.

The newspaper reported that the Islamic Academy operates out of a decrepit building with broken windows and unhealthy levels of lead in the peeling paint. The building has no working fire alarm and is able to stay open only because staff members have agreed to patrol the facility every 30 minutes and look for fires.

The Plain Dealer also reported that the school has not given students mandatory proficiency tests and has lagged in turning in mandated paperwork. As a result, its diplomas are not recognized by the state. Nevertheless, the school received $268,000 in taxpayer money since 1996.

"This is your worst nightmare," said State Sen. C.J. Prentiss, a voucher opponent. "But it's also predictable in that we don't have the kind of oversight that we need."

The Islamic Academy is one of five private schools taking part in the voucher program that have yet to complete state-mandated paperwork and whose buildings have not passed safety inspections. The schools have received about $1 million in state funding anyway.

Government officials have promised to crack down on the abuses. After the newspaper story, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) sent a memo to education officials ordering them to make recommendations to close "any loopholes which may exist" and strengthen "state regulation and oversight."

But for some parents, the governor's action has come too late. LaRuth Jackson pulled her son JayVeante out of the Islamic Academy's first grade after she realized he was not learning to read. Jackson said she became suspicious of the school when she dropped her son off one winter morning and noticed that the classroom was so cold she could see her breath.

"If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have never let him go there," Jackson said. "I blame everything on me. If my son has to repeat first grade, it's because of my bad judgment. I made a bad choice -- a real bad choice."

Days later the Plain Dealer reported that another voucher school, Golden Christian Academy, was offering children instruction almost exclusively through videos. An inspection of the school also found unsafe conditions, such as exposed electrical wires.

State education officials said they plan to remove the school from the voucher program. That decision drew a protest from Golden Christian Academy officials. "We're the only video school in Cleveland, so I would hate for it to disappear," said Sharon Golden, the school's director. "We are trying to build it up into something great."

Golden Christian Academy has received nearly $150,000 in state funding since 1997. It instructs children using a series of videos and workbooks produced by the Pensacola Christian Academy. The Pensacola Academy says its teachers are "dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education."

Texas Gov. Bush Touts 'Charitable Choice' Aid To Churches

Republican presidential contender George W. Bush has promised to pour billions in federal funds into the coffers of religious groups to perform social services if he is elected.

Bush, currently serving his second term as governor of Texas, said during a July 22 speech in Indianapolis that the federal government should "rally the armies of compassion in our communities" and provide tax incentives and federal funds to houses of worship to spur their social service work. He promised to spend $8 billion during his first year in office on tax incentives for charitable donations and to support charities and religious groups.

"In every instance when my administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith-based institutions, to charities and to community groups that have shown their ability to save and change lives," he said.

At a news conference after the speech, Bush insisted his proposal will not violate church-state separation, saying, "I'm told by the legal experts that my initiative will pass constitutional muster. We will send money to fund services. But the money does not go to fund the religious programs within the institution."

Bush said he wants to change the federal tax laws so that taxpayers who do not itemize deductions can still receive credit for charitable contributions. He also called for directing federal funding toward InterChange, a Texas program that uses religion to convince prison inmates to change their ways. He said he will revise laws to allow religious organizations "to provide services in every federal, state and local social program."

Bush insisted that such services must be "non-sectarian" and said, "We will keep a commitment to pluralism [and] not discriminate for or against Methodist or Mormons or Muslims or good people with no faith at all." He said he would make sure that "secular alternatives" are available as well.

Bush's speech came just two months after Vice President Al Gore endorsed "charitable choice" at a speech in Atlanta. During the speech, Gore lauded the work of "faith-based organizations" and said they should be able to receive federal funding without watering down their religious character.

Remarked Gore, "I give you this pledge: If you elect me president, the voices of faith-based organizations will be integral to the policies set forth in my administration."

Critics say both Bush and Gore are overlooking the potential church-state abuses that may occur under "charitable choice" schemes. Recently, a North Carolina ministry called Operation Blessing lost $50,000 in federal funds because it persisted in asking people questions about religion on a form applicants had to fill out before getting help.

Officials at the Cumberland County Community Development Office cut off the aid when it came to light that Operation Blessing was asking applicants if they were saved and if they believed they will go to heaven. Agency officials said the ministry, which offered a variety of services to the homeless, was not permitted to ask questions about religion.

Look Out, Dear Abby!: Dobson Column Carried By Over 550 Papers

A syndicated column by Focus on the Family's Dr. James C. Dobson is now appearing in 550 newspapers in the United States and Canada, making it the third most popular column in North America.

Dobson's column does not run in as many newspapers as the advice columns "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers," but it has outpaced popular columnists like George Will, Dave Barry and Judith Martin, better known as "Miss Manners."

Dobson has been writing the column since 1991. It entered syndication through Universal Syndicate in 1997. A recent edition of Focus on the Family magazine urged readers to call the group's media division for information about how to get the column in their own local newspaper.

Although he poses as a family advice counselor, Dobson is in reality a hardball political operator and increasingly influential Religious Right activist. Dobson's FOF is heavily political and in recent years has only increased that activity.

In his June 1999 monthly letter to supporters, Dobson blasted syndicated columnist Cal Thomas and Michigan pastor Ed Dobson (no relation) for writing a book titled Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? which argues that the Religious Right has erred by placing too much emphasis on politics instead of working to save souls.

Calling the book an example of "ill-considered advice to today's churches," Dobson writes, "Their argument is porous. When the church reaches the point of having no stomach for the fight against evil, especially in a day when moral foundations are crumbling, then its powerful voice for righteousness is muted and its influence in the culture is ineffective."

Dobson also attacked the title of the book, saying it "impugns the motives of every Christian who has worked tirelessly and thanklessly to influence our government. It implies that the sacrifices made to defend righteousness in the culture have been products of egotism and naivete. That is a low blow."

Concludes Dobson, "Unfortunately, Blinded by Might has been used powerfully by the secular media and liberal commentators in recent weeks to discredit Christians who seek to defend their beliefs. I hope this book slides quickly into the night before it can do any more damage to the nation and to the church of Jesus Christ."

Although Dobson holds far-right views, he does not hesitate to attack the Republican leadership in Congress, whom he frequently accuses of selling out on social issues. The July 21, 1999, edition of Citizen Issues Alert, an FOF fax bulletin, criticized the party leadership for introducing a tax-cut plan that fails to eliminate the so-called "marriage penalty," a glitch in the tax code that forces some married couples to pay higher taxes than they would if they remained single.

Dobson said the GOP plan "amounts to a betrayal of pro-family conservatives." The fax bulletin reported that on his daily radio broadcast for July 16, Dobson noted that "House officials promised him and other pro-family leaders a year ago that they would prioritize eliminating the marriage penalty tax. So far that hasn't happened...."

Dobson urged listeners to bombard GOP House leaders with calls demanding that the tax glitch be eliminated. Issues Alert noted that House Majority Leader Dick Armey said he received about 1,000 calls in a single day over the matter.

Robertson Charity Misled Donors About Africa Work, Paper Says

Investigators with Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs wanted to prosecute TV preacher Pat Robertson for making deceptive appeals about his Operation Blessing charity but were overruled by the attorney general's office, a newspaper has reported.

Bill Sizemore, a staffer with the Virginian-Pilot, a daily newspaper serving the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area, reported in July that investigators at the consumer affairs office concluded that Robertson "willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications."

Lawyers in the attorney general's office agreed Robertson had made inaccurate statements but decided against prosecution, saying there was no evidence he intended to defraud potential donors. Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley is a political ally of Robertson who accepted a $35,000 campaign contribution from the TV preacher in 1997. (Earley insists he played no role in the decision regarding Robertson.)

The controversy over Operation Blessing stretches back to 1994 when Robertson used his "700 Club" daily cable television program to raise funds for the charity. Robertson said Operation Blessing was using cargo planes to aid refugees from Rwanda who had fled into the neighboring nation of Zaire (now known as Congo) to escape a violent civil war.

In fact, Robertson was using the planes to haul mining equipment in and out of Zaire for African Development Corporation (ADC), his for-profit diamond-mining company. Robertson later said the planes had proved impractical for relief work and insisted he had reimbursed the charity for ADC's use of them.

The Office of Consumer Affairs' report contained several examples of deceptive fund-raising practices by Robertson. In one case, Robertson talked about a "medical strike force" going into the Zairian towns of Goma and Bukavu to transport "doctors and medicine back and forth....So please go to your phones; you can participate in Operation Blessing."

While Robertson did have volunteer medical teams in the area, they were not ferried back and forth by the airplanes. Those craft were used instead to haul ADC mining equipment.

Summarized the report, "Pat Robertson made material claims, via television appeals, regarding the relief efforts. These statements are refuted by the evidence in this case and thereby suggest a violation of's prohibition against obtaining money by any misrepresentation or misleading statement."

Robertson was livid over the Virginian-Pilot report, which was picked up by the Associated Press and carried nationwide. He accused the newspaper of deliberately publishing an inaccurate account.

At a news conference held outside his Christian Broadcasting Network offices, Robertson said, "This newspaper story is not only unfair, it is blatantly and maliciously wrong. The managing editor and the reporter conspired together to defraud the people of Hampton Roads, the Associated Press and the electronic media by making a libelous assertion which they knew was not contained in the 500-page file released by the Office of Consumer Affairs. I have instructed my attorneys to review the case for possible legal action on behalf of myself and Operation Blessing against the newspaper."

The paper later ran a lengthy statement by J. Nelson Happy, an attorney for Robertson and former dean of Robertson's Regent Law School, criticizing the story. It also ran a letter by J. Carlton Courter III, a state commissioner who overseas the Office of Consumer Affairs, challenging the accuracy of the story. (Courter was appointed by Gov. James Gilmore, also a Robertson ally who has accepted hefty campaign contributions from him.)

But the Virginian-Pilot stood by its story. In an editorial titled "No Absolution Here," the paper called the attorney general's decision not to prosecute Robertson "reasonable" but added that "it falls well short, though, of vindicating the religious broadcaster's use of the airwaves."

The paper noted that state officials have criticized the charity for sloppy bookkeeping and for mixing non-profit and for-profit activities. It also pointed out that Robertson reimbursed Operation Blessing for ADC's use of its airplanes in two stages. Investigators determined that ADC owed Operation Blessing $468,773. Robertson ultimately gave the group $572,597, but $400,000 of that came two months after the official investigation began.

Concluded the Virginian-Pilot, "That was three years after the expenses were incurred. If this gives no grounds for prosecution, it surely affords none, either, for Robertson's aggrieved self-righteousness."

In other news from Virginia Beach:

 Robertson has called for changing U.S. foreign policy to allow for the assassination of foreign leaders.

Appearing on his "700 Club" Aug. 9, the TV preacher said, "I know it sounds somewhat Machiavellian and evil, to think that you could send a squad in to take out somebody like Osama bin Laden, or to take out the head of North Korea," Robertson said. "But isn't it better to do something like that, to take out Milosevic, to take out Saddam Hussein, rather than spend billions and billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country? It would just seem so much more practical to have that flexibility...."

Robertson's cohost asked him how assassinations could be squared with the Christian teachings in the Bible. A nonplussed Robertson, referring to North Korean President Kim Jong Il and others, replied, "They have killed numerous people over there, and the idea that you would take one of them, you know, dispatch him, is not the most horrible thing in the world. Christian or otherwise. I mean, there's such a thing as balancing good versus evil, and the evil that he can bring about...I just think it's the intelligent thing to do and I don't see anything un-Christian about it."