ALLOTT: Separation of church and scrutiny

Only exotic and obscure religions get a free pass from liberal press

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Of all the double standards that define the left-leaning political media, perhaps the most glaring involves the separate standards it uses in covering candidates’ religious beliefs.

Candidates who are members of exotic or obscure religions regularly escape scrutiny. But faithful adherents to mainstream religions are heavily scrutinized and, at times, are attacked for their beliefs, which are routinely portrayed as strange or dangerous.

There has been a lot of talk about the prejudice and discrimination Mitt Romney would have to endure as the first viable Mormon presidential candidate, but details of the presidential front-runner’s faith have barely been discussed.

There seems to be an unspoken agreement in the media that Mormonism, which even Mr. Romney recently acknowledged “is an unusual religion in a number of respects” - is off-limits.

Mr. Romney is not alone. In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Only five years removed from Sept. 11 and with the U.S. engaged in two wars against Islamists, the Minnesota lawmaker might have expected his faith to be a liability during the campaign. But it may have helped him win.

Ellison’s Muslim faith has generated no controversy in the campaign,” Minneapolis lawyer Scott W. Johnson wrote in the WeeklyStandardbefore the election. “On the contrary, it has served to insulate aspects of his public record from close scrutiny in a city whose dominant news organ, the Minneapolis StarTribune, is a paragon of political correctness.”

Protected from scrutiny of his religious beliefs and dubious past, including his relationships with the Nation of Islam and members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Mr. Ellison has won each of his three elections by no less than 34 percentage points.

President Obama’s faith has similarly been deemed off-limits. For two decades before he became president, Mr. Obama attended the church of the controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright. Mr. Wright’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, preaches black liberation theology, a religious philosophy whose goal is to liberate blacks from oppression.

Mr. Wright made numerous incendiary remarks from the pulpit during the time Mr. Obama attended, including a suggestion that America was to blame for the attacks of Sept. 11.

The press mostly ignored Mr. Obama’s association with Mr. Wright and his church, and berated anyone who brought it up. A pre-election NewYorkTimes editorial argued that Mr. Obama’s “religious connection” with Mr. Wright “should be none of the voters’ business.”

In the campaign, Republican nominee John McCain refused to mention Mr. Obama’s church or pastor in ads, interviews, speeches or debates. Because neither the mainstream media nor Mr. McCain was willing to talk about Mr. Wright or Trinity, many voters never heard much about them.

Contrast this with the media’s treatment of candidates from mainstream faiths. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 26 percent of Americans identify as evangelicals, making evangelical Christianity the most commonly practiced religion in the country.

Despite the pervasiveness of their faith, evangelical Christian candidates routinely receive excessive negative scrutiny from the media.

Reporters swarmed to Sarah Palin’s former church, Wasilla Assembly of God in Alaska, the moment she was selected as Mr. McCain’s running mate in 2008. Reporters interviewed church members about Mrs. Palin’s involvement in the church and dissected her former pastor’s sermons. “Palin’s church may have shaped controversial worldview,” read the headline to a story suggesting that a prayer Mrs. Palin had offered for U.S. troops was proof that religion would guide her foreign policy.

Bill Keller, as executive editor of the NewYorkTimes, wrote in August that tougher questions were warranted of Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican presidential candidates who he said “belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to average Americans.”

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