Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Senate to reject the nomination of former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general, arguing that his views are too far outside the mainstream.
"Ashcroft is an avowed opponent of the separation of church and state," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "He is likely to use his office to further a reckless mixing of religion and government. We call on the Senate to reject his nomination."
Americans United today released a report surveying Ashcroft's views on church-state issues and his ties to controversial TV preachers Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy and radio counselor James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
The AU report notes that Religious Right groups worked behind the scenes to torpedo rival candidates for the attorney general job and to promote Ashcroft. Many of these leaders had endorsed Ashcroft during his brief foray into presidential politics in 1997 and '98, the report notes.
"Ashcroft spent six years in the Senate taking orders from extreme TV preachers and their political allies in the Religious Right," Lynn charged. "I have no doubt that he would do the same as attorney general. America deserves better."
Although Ashcroft is best known for his strong anti-abortion views, the report notes that he was also the principal architect behind "charitable choice," a plan to subsidize religious groups with millions in taxpayer dollars for providing social services. Ashcroft explicitly opposes any attempt to require participating houses of worship to abide by the separation of church and state.
In addition, Ashcroft has bitterly criticized the Supreme Court's rulings upholding the religious neutrality of the public schools. In 1998, Ashcroft addressed a gathering of Robertson's Christian Coalition, where he blasted church-state separation. Charged Ashcroft, "A robed elite have taken the wall of separation designed to protect the church and they have made it a wall of religious oppression."
Lynn charged that Ashcroft has little or no appreciation for the First Amendment's religious liberty provisions. That fact alone, he asserted, makes him unfit for office.
Concluded Lynn, "We do not intend to stand idly by and allow a man who does not appreciate one of the core principles upon which this nation was founded to become the highest law enforcement officer in the land."
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.