- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2000


Instead of starting the messy job of cleaning up President Clinton's legacy, it seems some House Democrats are more concerned about demagoguing the selection of the House chaplain. A House committee designed only to select three finalists for the job also made an unofficial recommendation ranking the finalists. In the final selection the House leadership chose someone else, the wrong man according to Democrats. All sorts of religious recriminations have broken out, and now some Democrats on and off the committee have taken the House leadership to task for choosing a Protestant finalist over the committee's preferred Catholic finalist.
In a letter to President William Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who is up in arms over the selection of Charles Wright, a Protestant minister, Majority Leader Dick Armey explained that he chose Mr. Wright because of his experience dealing with people. The Catholic finalist, the Rev. Timothy O'Brien, "has been a political science professor for 22 years, while Rev. Wright has 25 years of pastoral experience," he wrote. But this explanation was not satisfactory to certain cynical Democrats who have spied an election issue.
"What are we left to believe?" cried Rep. Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California and a member of the bipartisan committee, to USA Today. Apparently, that Democrats are full of hot air at best and borderline slander at worst. The critics of Speaker Dennis Hastert's and Mr. Armey's selection have not one iota of evidence that their selection was motivated by anti-Catholic sentiments.
Certainly, the final committee vote was never the whitewash that some Democrats say. Mr. Wright finished with 9.5 votes, while the Rev. Robert Dvorak, a Lutheran, had 10.5 votes and Father O'Brien had 14. A solid victory, but with 18 members on the committee voting for three finalists out of the six semi-finalists, Mr. Wright still had the support of at least half the committee.
This ranking might actually mean something if the selection process provided a place for it, which the process does not. Official correspondence from Republican Tom Bliley and Democrat Earl Pomeroy announcing the three finalists to Mr. Hastert and Mr. Gephardt contains absolutely no mention of any ranking. On Jan. 14, Mr. Bliley and Mr. Pomeroy released a letter explicitly killing the potency of any verbal ranking recommendation: "It was understood the final selection would be made by Speaker Hastert, Leader Armey and Leader Gephardt. No ranking of the finalists was established by the committee."
Democrats who cry about Republican prejudice should be reminded that through the effort of two Republicans President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Richard Lugar the United States first established diplomatic ties with the Vatican, against the wishes of Protestant groups. How is that for anti-Catholic bias? Or perhaps they should be reminded that Republicans are consistently the party of pro-life politics, a position that ought to resonate with Catholics. And finally, they should be reminded that whatever libel or slander laws may be on the books, you don't accuse anyone of religious discrimination until you have proof. And there is none here.

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