Leading Christian right political groups "too busy to comment" on Robertson's assassination remarks


Pat Robertson's August 22 call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez generated demands for an apology from members of Congress and religious groups spanning the ideological spectrum, including the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Clergy Council. Yet several leading Christian right political groups -- such as the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition of America, and the American Center for Law and Justice -- have maintained silence on the matter. Another major Christian right political outfit, the American Family Association, excused Robertson's comments as having been made in "frustration" during an August 25 radio broadcast and quoted the conservative Media Research Center offering a lukewarm endorsement of Robertson's comments.

When contacted by The New York Times on August 24 to discuss Robertson's remarks, the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the Christian Coalition each declined to comment, claiming they were "too busy."

The Family Research Council (FRC) has remained mum on Robertson since rebuffing the Times. FRC president Tony Perkins devoted his weekly radio program, Washington Watch Weekly, to his organization's campaign against the proposed .xxx Internet domain for pornography websites, ignoring the Robertson controversy. Perkins has yet to discuss Robertson's remarks in his daily "Washington Update" email newsletters. Following Robertson's call for assassination, on August 26, FRC issued a newsletter denouncing People for the American Way as "People for Getting in the Way."

Silence on the issue has prevailed at James Dobson's Focus on the Family, which sells an audio cassette featuring a discussion among Dobson, Robertson, and attorney Jay Sekulow, titled The Supreme Court Speaks Out. As the controversy over Robertson's remarks exploded in the media on August 25 and 26, Dobson devoted two consecutive radio programs to discussing "the causes and signs of stress in children and how parents can help alleviate that stress"; he has yet to acknowledge the controversy on the air. There has been no mention of the controversy on Focus on the Family's website or in its related publications. Instead, the site features articles such as "Five Aspects of a Godly Man." An excerpt: "God HAS created men with a desire to fight for truth and stand against evil and injustice. We see this in little boys who like play guns, as well as in the longing for significant purpose that a man experiences when watching a movie like Braveheart."

Concerned Women for America (CWA) is keeping quiet as well. Rather than condemn Robertson's call for assassinating Chavez, CWA took aim at the Girl Scouts of the USA; an August 29 article (written by CWA Culture and Family Institute director Robert Knight) denounced the group for its "leftward leanings." Knight singled out for particular criticism the Girl Scouts' invitation of an educator who rejects "ex-'gay' counseling and ministry" to speak at their 2005 national convention. Throughout the Robertson controversy, CWA featured an August 23 article by senior fellow Janice Shaw Crouse, titled "A Pimp's Take on Intimacy ."

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) also avoided the Robertson controversy, focusing instead on attacking groups opposed to John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court. On August 25, TVC called People for the American Way "one of the most anti-Christian groups in the country." TVC maintains a prominent space on its website for promotion of TVC president and founder Louis P. Sheldon's recently released book, The Agenda: The Homosexual Plan to Change America (FrontLine, August 2005).

The Christian Coalition of America, which Robertson founded in 1988 and from which he resigned in 2001, has not commented on the controversy. The group's website includes a petition in support of Roberts's Supreme Court nomination, but neither the website nor the coalition's weekly email newsletter, "Washington Weekly Review," mentioned Robertson's call for Chavez's assassination. The group's weblog also avoided the controversy, although it did include an entry criticizing the media as "corrupt, cynical, negative, and dare we say, anti-American" and titled, unironically, "Spiro T. Agnew: Where are you when we need you?"

Among Christian right figures who declined to address Robertson's remarks, perhaps most notable is Sekulow. He is the general counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which Robertson founded in 1990 to function as the legal arm of the Christian Coalition. Further, Sekulow received his doctorate from the Robertson-founded Regent University. On August 25, he devoted his radio show, Jay Sekulow Live!, to "Preparing for Battle" for the Roberts confirmation. The following day, Sekulow discussed "the rights of students to express their faith in the school setting."

One of the only major Christian right political groups to acknowledge the Robertson controversy was the American Family Association (AFA). In an August 25 article in AFA's daily newswire service, AgapePress, MRC research director Rich Noyes seemed to offer a lukewarm endorsement of Robertson's call to assassinate Chavez. "What Robertson was basically arguing is that it's time to deal with this problem," Noyes told AgapePress. "I think 'assassination' was an unfortunate word [for Robertson to use]. On the other hand, it seemed to get this conversation going in a way that it hasn't before."

On the August 25 broadcast of the AFA Report radio program, AFA Journal news director Ed Vitagliano offered understanding for Robertson. Of Robertson's call for killing Chavez, Vitagliano said: "We all say things privately that would not be prudent in public. In frustration you might say, 'We ought to just bump off so and so; just get rid of him; we ought to nuke such and such a place.' But you say it publicly, you're gonna get yourself in trouble. This could have been nipped in the bud, as Barney Fife would say, um, from the outset, and it would have all gone away quickly."

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