Published on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 by the Capital Times / Madison, Wisconsin
This Is the Lowest Blow
The Republican National Committee has acknowledged sending mass mailings to voters in at least two states that suggest Democrats would, if elected in 2004, ban the Bible.
Literature designed and paid for by the Republican Party and distributed in West Virginia and Arkansas featured an image of the primary text of Christianity and the label "banned." Next to it was an image of a gay marriage ceremony labeled "allowed." The text beneath the images read, "This will be Arkansas ... if you don't vote" or "This will be West Virginia ... if you don't vote."
The literature was distributed as part of a campaign to stir fears among evangelical Christians, whose votes the Republican National Committee and the George W. Bush campaign believe could provide the margin of victory for the president's re-election campaign in key swing states.
To the view of the people working for the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign, who are following a god named Karl Rove, this is just politics. Under the influence of the White House political czar who has guided Bush's every step in the electoral arena, they have suspended morality in the pursuit of a win-at-any-cost approach to electioneering.
But this is not just politics.This is something much darker, much more troubling.
When political operatives begin to tell people that their holy texts will be banned if they don't vote for a particular candidate or party, they enter into a danger zone. People take their religion seriously; history and contemporary experience tell us that they are willing to kill or be killed in order to defend their faith. One of the most powerful recruiting tools for terrorists is the suggestion that one's religion is threatened.
Playing with religion is playing with fire. And to do so for political gain is beyond defense.
The Democratic candidates for president and vice president, John Kerry and John Edwards, are active members of different Christian denominations. They have not proposed banning the Bible. Nor have other leading Democrats. Nor have the federal jurists who spokesmen for the Republican National Committee claim inspired their fantastical claims. There is no threat to the Bible.
But there is a threat. Political operatives who lack any moral compass are stirring dangerous fears. They need to be called to account. Responsible Republicans - and, despite the foul actions of the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign, it should be remembered that there are still many responsible Republicans - should call upon their party apparatus and their president's campaign committee to cease all appeals to religious bigotry and fear.
Democrats and independents, along with thoughtful religious leaders, have already objected to the GOP mailings. "What they are doing is despicable," Interfaith Alliance leader Don Parker says of the Republicans. "They are playing on fears and emotions." The Charleston Gazette newspaper in West Virginia complained of the "childish allegations that Democrats want to ban the Bible."
But, ultimately, this is not a mess that will be cleaned up by religious leaders and newspaper editorial pages. This is an issue that responsible Republicans must, themselves, address. They should do so by quickly and loudly condemning those political operatives who, in their ham-handed attempt to mingle religion and politics, have found the low ground and occupied it.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times