- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

The Democratic National Committee’s new adviser for religious outreach was one of 32 signatories on a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief backing an atheist who sought to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

In February, the Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson was one of almost three dozen Christian and Jewish clergy who — along with the Unitarian Universalist Association — asked the Supreme Court to support Michael Newdow, the California plaintiff trying to change the Pledge’s wording.

The Supreme Court restored the words “under God” to the Pledge in June, ruling that Mr. Newdow had no standing or legal right to bring the case.

Mrs. Peterson was already well-known in Washington, where she was executive director for the Clergy Network for National Leadership Change, a group trying to oust President Bush and undermine religious conservatives.

She is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an Indianapolis-based Protestant denomination.

Her new appointment, announced July 23 by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe as part of a Democratic effort to wrest America’s religious voters away from Mr. Bush, has delighted religious liberals.

The Rev. Albert M. Pennybacker, a Disciples of Christ minister and chief executive officer for the Clergy Network, said Mrs. Peterson is “smart, a quick study, energetic and an attractive public presence.”

“She’s articulate with progressive religious views,” he said.

But the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights sees her in a different light.

“This is the person the Democrats want to dispatch to meet with the heads of religious organizations?” said the conservative group’s president, William Donohue. “Are they out of their minds? Would they hire a gay basher to reach out to homosexuals?”

Two months ago, the league successfully silenced Sen. John Kerry’s religious adviser, Mara Vanderslice, by bringing up her past connections with radical political groups.

The selections of Miss Vanderslice and Mrs. Peterson “suggest that either no one bothers to vet candidates for religious outreach or the elites making the choices are anti-religious,” said Mr. Donohue, who is registered as an independent.

“If the former is true, then this shows that the Democrats place no priority on appealing to people of faith. If the latter is true, then Kerry needs to bring in a big broom and clean house.”

Mr. Pennybacker said, “It’d be a stretch to say Brenda is a compensation for Mara. Brenda’s job is really based in the ongoing life of the Democratic Party. Mara’s job was tied with the Kerry campaign.”

Mrs. Peterson rallied religious liberals since she took the Clergy Network post in November. Her husband, John Peterson, is communications director for the Interfaith Alliance, a liberal ecumenical group.

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