Pennsylvania Congressman Drops Out Of Religious Extremist Conference After Au Protest

Rep. Pitts, House GOP Liaison To Religious Right, Tells Reporters He 'Doesn't Believe In Stoning Anybody'

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.), who had been scheduled to speak this weekend to a radical fundamentalist group that seeks to impose "biblical law" on the nation, announced yesterday that he has cancelled his appearance.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote to Pitts on Tuesday, urging the congressman to withdraw from the event to avoid lending credibility to a group that "advocates extreme policies that run counter to our Constitution and the American way of life."

Pitts, who serves as the House Republican leadership's liaison to religious conservatives, was slated to speak at a conference of the National Reform Association in Ephrata, Pa. The group is the political arm of a movement called "Christian Reconstructionism." Adherents of this religio-political agenda favor establishing a rigid "Christian" religious state. Some Reconstructionists even favor stoning as punishment for certain "sins."

Faced with media pressure as a result of Americans United's letter, Pitts quickly caved. Acknowledging the cancellation, Pitts spokesperson Gabe Neville told the Associated Press, "Congressman Pitts doesn't believe in stoning anybody."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, wondered why Pitts agreed to speak to the Christian Reconstructionists.

"While Rep. Pitts has done the right thing by dropping out of the event, one has to wonder why he accepted the invitation in the first place," Lynn said. "Members of Congress hold a unique position of public trust. Lawmakers should be careful not to endorse extreme groups and radical agendas."

In the Reconstructionists' model society, homosexuality, worshipping "false" gods, "witchcraft" and marital infidelity would merit the death penalty. One sponsor of this weekend's event, the Rev. William Einwechter, argued in a 1999 article that juvenile delinquents should be stoned to death. Another speaker at the event, Gary DeMar, asserted in a 1987 book that gay people, abortion doctors and people who seek abortions should be executed.

Einwechter, asked by reporters yesterday about his radical ideas, defended his beliefs by insisting that harsh criminal penalties such as stoning incorrigible youths are "in the Bible." He added "To attack that is to attack Christians, to attack Jews, and it is its own sense of discrimination."

AU's Lynn rejected Einwechter's argument as "nonsense."

"Christian Reconstructionists can interpret the Bible however they please," said AU's Lynn. "But government officials should know better than to lend these groups credibility and support with their presence. That's not discrimination, it's common sense."

Four years ago, Pitts was appointed by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and other House Republicans to serve as a liaison between the GOP and the Religious Right.

Groups such as the National Reform Association may be trying to take advantage of the liaison role as part of a drive to increase Reconstructionists' political influence in Washington, D.C.

In April 2001, for example, National Reform Association officials met with several House members, including DeLay and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who at the time served as the House Republican Conference Chair. During the visit, the Reconstructionist delegation also stopped at the White House, where it was warmly received by an official in the Office of Public Policy and Liaison. They also visited with the staff of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"Christian Reconstructionists may be on the fringes of the American political and theological spectrum, but they're clearly working to build influence in Washington," said AU's Lynn. "Anyone concerned with protecting religious liberty in America should find this both remarkable and disturbing."

State Rep. Samuel Rohrer (R-Berks), a far-right member of the Pennsylvania legislature, was scheduled to appear with Pitts at this weekend's event. Like Pitts, Rohrer also announced yesterday that he will not be attending.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.