GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft stood at one of the nation's better known pulpits to defend his religious beliefs, saying he imposes his faith on no one.
Ashcroft spoke last Sunday to a near-capacity crowd at Orange County's Crystal Cathedral, a 10,000-member church that hosts the weekly TV worship program ''Hour of Power.'' The show draws millions of viewers worldwide.
Critics have accused Ashcroft, a lay minister and son of a Pentecostal preacher, of giving religion too prominent a role at the Justice Department -- including optional prayer meetings with staff before each work day. Ashcroft insisted he was not proselytizing at work.
''It's against my religion to impose my religion,'' he said.
He added: ''I have always hoped that if I were ever accused of being a Christian that there would be enough evidence to convict me.''
The audience interrupted Ashcroft several times to applaud.
The attorney general spoke of his Missouri childhood, saying one year his parents had more than 400 overnight guests.
''They came from every race and ethnic group -- Africans, South Americans, Orientals,'' Ashcroft told the largely white audience.
Critics have questioned Ashcroft's record on civil rights, including his opposition as a Missouri senator to the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, who is black, for a federal judgeship.
Many worshippers praised Ashcroft.
''He is unafraid to stand up and say what he believes, no matter what the cost,'' said Cheryl Stahl of Los Alamitos.
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