Ashcroft Statement On Islam Shows Ongoing Pattern Of Religious Insensitivity, Says Americans United

Attorney General Should Drop Religious Agenda, Says AU's Lynn

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's recent comments criticizing Islam suggest that the nation's top law enforcement official does not appreciate or understand religious diversity, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Ashcroft is under fire for negative comments about Islam he made during an interview with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in November. According to Thomas, Ashcroft said, "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you."

Justice Department officials say Ashcroft meant the comments to apply only to terrorists and not mainstream Muslims.  A department spokesperson called the flap "an innocent misunderstanding."

But the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said the controversy is further evidence that Ashcroft is intent on using his office to promote a religious agenda.

"The attorney general needs to learn that he represents all Americans, not just fundamentalist Christians, and that he has been appointed to a secular position," said Lynn. "Ashcroft is the attorney general, not the national pastor."

Thomas is standing by his interpretation of the exchange, saying that Ashcroft did not at the time say the comment applied only to Muslims who embrace terrorism.

Lynn noted that Ashcroft, as a U.S. senator, was a favorite of the Religious Right. In a 1998 appearance before the Christian Coalition, Ashcroft attacked church-state separation, asserting that a "robed elite" has "taken the wall of separation built to protect the church and made it a wall of religious oppression."

Remarked AU's Lynn, "During this difficult period in our nation's history, we need political leaders who understand the importance of inter-faith harmony.

"If Ashcroft wants to run down other religions and promote Christianity," concluded Lynn, "he ought to do it as a private citizen and resign from the attorney general's office."

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.