Religious lobbies take both sides on Ashcroft

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. attorney general nominee John Ashcroft has drawn strong support from religious conservatives, but a lobby supported by President-elect George W. Bush's own United Methodist Church was among those joining the opposition.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, backed by Methodist and other mainline Protestant and Jewish agencies, accused Ashcroft of an ''extreme ideology'' in his opposition to abortion rights.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagreed with Ashcroft on religion in public schools and federal ''charitable choice'' to fund religious welfare agencies. The group said Ashcroft's statement at Bob Jones University that the United States has ''no king but Jesus'' demonstrated ''contempt'' for religious liberty.

Ashcroft is a member of the Assemblies of God, a large and growing Pentecostal denomination. Assemblies General Superintendent Thomas Trask called Ashcroft ''a Christian statesman.''

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant body, endorsed Ashcroft, and its leader accused his opponents of ''outright religious bigotry.''

Without naming Ashcroft, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops' spokeswoman on abortion said ''pro-abortion McCarthyism'' is being used to disqualify nominees for public office. And the conservative Catholic League said liberal lobbies that attacked Ashcroft for speaking at Bob Jones were hypocritical because they themselves engaged in ''patently anti-Catholic'' activity.

Other Ashcroft endorsers include two groups that litigate church-state cases, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and American Center for Law and Justice. The latter was founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, whose Christian Coalition is campaigning for Ashcroft.

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