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Faith in the public square

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heading into today's Kentucky and Oregon election contests, Barack Obama is focusing on faith - specifically his. Ironically — but predicatably — the media is not; this has a lot to do with the candidate.

In Kentucky, letters and flyers were circulated in churches with an image of Mr. Obama, standing in a church pulpit with a large cross erected behind him. The pamphlet contains the following message: "Faith, Hope, Change. Barack Obama for president. 'My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work.' "

It sounds inspiring — inspiration that was not lost on NBC's "Meet The Press" host, Tim Russert, this Sunday. He interviewed former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and asked about Mr. Obama's flyers. Mr. Huckabee said: "I think it's interesting that nobody's jumping on Obama for this very blatant cross in the ad. And I took grief for months, I'm still taking it."

He is dead right. Just a few months ago, Mr. Huckabee was raked over the coals regarding his faith. The now infamous "bookshelf-disguising-itself-as-a-cross" ad that he ran in South Carolina as a televised Christmas message was decried by pundits, pontificators, atheists and the Catholic League as a subliminal message to gullible viewers who might be swayed by Mr. Huckabee's faith. How dare he!

Multiple media outlets pressed Mr. Huckabee on the issue — from FOX News and CNN to the Associated Press. Television hosts Chris Matthews and Mr. Russert were among the biggest accusers. Look at the transcripts (as Mr. Russert so often does with his interview subjects).

First of all, when Mr. Russert referenced Mr. Obama's "faith ad" on Sunday, he described it as: "An attempt, I think, by the Obama campaign to bridge the cultural divide that he is experiencing in West Virginia and Kentucky." Hmm ... how nice and noble ... bridging the cultural divide.

But when referring to Mr. Huckabee's Christmas television ad last year, Mr. Russert described it this way: "I want to talk to you about your past as a Baptist minister and your faith ... an ad where you describe yourself as a Christian leader, an ad where many thought a cross was superimposed." Mr. Huckabee: "Which it was not, it was a bookshelf." The grilling continued: "You went to Liberty University ... [W]here does this leave non-Christians ... [M]any Americans believe that you would be imposing your faith belief." Hmm ... no bridge here — except the one Mr. Russert seems to be telling Mr. Huckabee to jump off.

Second, the only question Mr. Russert asked Mr. Obama about his "faith," in an interview on May 4, was about his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The rest of the interview focused on a range of presidential-like policy issues. In contrast, the entire bulk of Mr. Russert's 2007 interview with Mr. Huckabee was used as an opportunity to lambast him on every aspect of his Christian faith — from whether he would appoint atheists to his positions on homosexuality and abortion. Fair game, you say? Maybe so. That is, if one applies the same standard to all candidates. This is the same Christian faith that Mr. Huckabee shares with Mr. Obama. And none of those questions were asked of Mr. Obama by Mr. Russert — or anyone in the media.

Is Mr. Obama "imposing" his faith on us? As far as the media is concerned, he is too busy building bridges, while Republicans are subliminally indoctrinating Americans with intolerance. This is a glaring double standard.

Also, Mr. Obama's ad is not "subliminal," for it has an actual, deliberate, clearly-visible cross that he is standing in front of. Where are the atheists and Catholic League? Why are they not decrying Mr. Obama's in-your-face religious flyers? Where is all the media outrage?

There is nothing wrong with candidates expressing their faith: In fact, I am encouraged by it. Quite frankly, Mr. Obama should be applauded for recognizing and utilizing an effective strategy that has been shunned by national Democrats to their detriment. The overwhelming majority of Americans are people of faith; Mr. Obama's Christian faith is one of the only few ways he can distinguish himself, aside from his mostly liberal voting record and agenda.

Our 33rd president, Harry Truman, recognized without impunity the importance of faith in the Oval Office when he declared: "We all can pray. We all should pray. We should ask the fulfillment of God's will. We should ask for courage, wisdom, for the quietness of soul which comes alone to them who place their lives in His hands."

So, why is there a double-standard today? Where is the neutral media? The media must either make faith an issue (the same issue) for both sides of the political spectrum, or not make it an issue at all. After all, the Constitution requires no religious test for public office.