- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Rev. Al Sharpton seems to think that Mitt Romney doesn’t really believe in God. The former governor of Massachusetts and current Republican presidential aspirant may be a spiritual man (Mr. Sharpton makes no claim to the contrary), but he’s also a Mormon. And that fact — one can infer from a comment Mr. Sharpton made Monday night — is a problem in his view. “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation,” Mr. Sharpton said during a debate in New York with Christopher Hitchens.

Mr. Sharpton is now trying to claim that “those who really believe in God” was meant to set himself apart from his debate opponent, a noted atheist. That explanation doesn’t wash. Taken as a whole, the remark is pretty clearly in reference to Mr. Romney, not Mr. Hitchens. Furthermore, the phrase “those who really believe in God” implies a contrast with those who profess religious faith but don’t truly believe in God. But Mr. Hitchens is as ardent an atheist as they come, so should Mr. Sharpton have wanted to contrast himself with his interlocutor, he would not have needed the qualifier “really.”

The event was billed as “A Debate: God is Not Great,” with Mr. Hitchens arguing for the thesis and Mr. Sharpton against. Throughout the debate, Mr. Sharpton rebuffs his opponent’s attacks as criticisms of religious denominations, not of God — at one point affirming that the two were indeed separable. But they are not separate, apparently, because in Mr. Sharpton’s mind Mr. Romney’s religion has a direct bearing on the validity of his faith. It’s not entirely clear why Mr. Sharpton referred to Mr. Romney, although Mr. Hitchens earlier in the debate criticized the Mormon church for previously upholding racial segregation.

After radio talk-show host Don Imus made a disparaging remark about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, Mr. Sharpton launched an all-out offensive. The issue ballooned, and Mr. Imus’ radio show was pulled amid a frenzy of coverage in the press. In the wake of the Imus dust-up, and in light of Mr. Sharpton’s role, the civil-rights activist shouldn’t get his usual pass. But we won’t be surprised if he does.

Mr. Imus’ remark smacked of racial prejudice; Mr. Sharpton’s of religious bigotry. Mr. Sharpton, a long-time crusader against racial bigotry, is quick to judge and quick to bring his clout to bear on those he feels have crossed the line. It’s time for Mr. Sharpton to be held to his own standards.

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