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Ashcroft statement on Islam shows intolerance, says Americans united. (People & Events).

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has been criticized for comments suggesting that Islam falls short when compared to Christianity.

Ashcroft made the controversial remarks during an interview with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in November, but they have only recently come to light. 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."

Lynn noted that Ashcroft is 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 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, he ought to do it as a private citizen and resign from the attorney general's office."

U.S. Muslim groups have also called on the attorney general to clarify his remarks. On Feb. 11 the American Muslim Council issued a statement noting that the comments had made many in the Muslim community uncomfortable.

"The Attorney General's alleged remarks, which are not factual, will provide another excuse for discrimination and persecution of a community already under a lot of pressures," read the statement. "We ask the Attorney General to publicly dissociate himself from these alleged remarks, which have deeply hurt the feelings of a peace-loving community."

On Feb. 13, Ashcroft issued a one-sentence statement, reading, "The reported remarks do not express my views and do not accurately reflect what I believe I said some 12-13 weeks ago."

Thomas, who first used the remarks during a Nov. 9 radio address and called them "profound," is standing by his interpretation of the exchange. Thomas did not tape record the comment but wrote it down at the time. He said he read the quote back to Ashcroft and his communications director during the interview.

In other news about Ashcroft:

* A bare-breasted statue personifying Justice that has stood in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice since 1936 has suddenly been shielded behind an $8,000 blue curtain. The 12-and-a-half-foot "Spirit of Justice" statue has often appeared in the background during televised departmental press conferences.

Critics charged that the cover-up sprang from Ashcroft's religious and political conservatism. A department spokesperson, however, denied that Ashcroft had anything to do with it, saying the blue curtain made a better backdrop for televised events.

* In a speech laced with biblical references, Ashcroft told the National Religious Broadcasters convention Feb. 19 that the Constitution "calls for the respect of religion in its indispensable role in forming a just and moral citizenry."

"Civilized people -- Muslims, Christians and Jews -- all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator," Ashcroft said. "Civilized people of all religious faiths are called to the defense of His creation."

The speech contained several favorable comments about Islam, but they might not have gone over well with the NRB. The day before Ashcroft spoke, many attendees went to a "Public Policy Breakfast" to hear Timothy Abraham, a Muslim convert to fundamentalist Christianity, explain how to convert Muslims.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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