Left-wing secularists who oppose religion in the public square may be dismayed to learn that their values apparently conflict with those of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), according to the author of a new book on the former first lady's religious beliefs.
Although many Democrats support a very strict separation of church and state, the front-runner for the party's presidential nomination does not, Paul Kengor, author of "God and Hillary Clinton," said in an interview. In fact, Clinton is not reticent about injecting her faith into policy discussions, said Kengor, who teaches political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
And there is a double-standard at play with the media, said Kengor, because they often provide extensive coverage of conservative Republicans who publicly express their religious views, often suggesting that they cross the line between church and state.
Kengor expects this double standard will play out in the 2008 presidential race, as it did in 2000.
Not only did the media not object to Hillary's annihilation of any barriers separating church and state, but they loved it, and sometimes even cheered her on," said Kengor.
Kengor added that Clinton's use of religion, especially in her 2000 Senate run and now in her presidential campaign, is one of the most under-reported aspects of her public career.
While the first lady employed her Christian faith for political purpose in an overt and often aggressive fashion, the "intensely secular, religiously hostile New York press" raised no objections, he said.
The following exchange touches on some of the major points Kengor raised.
Q: What was your purpose in writing this book?
Paul Kengor: The secular liberal press throws open its doors to religious liberals when they use their faith in a way the left approves of, such as the Catholic bishops protesting Reagan's nuclear policies in the 1980s. But they attack George W. Bush or John Ashcroft or any religious person on the right who says their faith is part of who they are and what they do. This hypocrisy needed exposure.
Q: Is Hillary Clinton sincere in expressing the view that religion has a place in the public square and in the political process, or is she just posturing?
Paul Kengor: Oh, I think it's sincere. She's a lawyer, and she has looked at this in an intellectually serious way and understands separation of church and state does not mean what the extremist, secular left says it means.
Clinton believes she ought to be permitted to bring her faith into politics. She's even complained about people who believe faith should be excluded from the public square.
Q: Can you describe what her appearances were like in churches leading up to her election as senator in 2002? Was this a pure get-out-the-vote effort? How do they contrast with the way President Bush has handled church appearances?
Paul Kengor: We are talking primarily about African-American churches, and she would go into these churches and quote scripture. She would then interpret scripture in such a way to mean you need to go out and vote for us on Tuesday. Just imagine George W. Bush going into a Baptist church in the South and giving one speech like this - he would not able to do this. But Hillary does it without any exposure in the press. I have a number here that says it all. Clinton visited 27 churches in the two months prior to the 2000 election and six on Election Day. Bush visited just three churches in his first three years, and these were for 9/11 memorials whereas Clinton's were strictly political.
Q: How did Hillary Clinton react to the 2004 elections? Did the influence of evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and pro-life voters move her in any way? Is she now more receptive to values voters?
Paul Kengor: Well, she realized after both the 2000 and 2004 elections that so-called values voters made a real difference for George W. Bush. Between early 2004 and late 2004, she went from demonizing pro-lifers in front of feminist audiences to extending an olive branch after the 2004 vote. She was unbelievably nasty toward pro-lifers at one point, but there's been a total about-face that can only be explained by her coming to realize she needs some of those votes to win in 2008.
Q: Should we anticipate any type of olive branch toward pro-life voters at the next Democratic convention? Her husband precluded former Pennsylvania Gov. Casey, a pro-lifer, from speaking in 1992. Now that Casey's son, another pro-lifer, serves in the U.S. Senate, might she reverse her husband's convention decision?
Paul Kengor: Interesting, I don't think so. She'll change her rhetoric toward pro-lifers but she will not change any of her policy stances. Nothing impassions her like abortion rights, and she's not going to change on the substance one bit.
Q: How does she reconcile her abortion stance with her Christian convictions?
Paul Kengor: Keep in mind that her church, the United Methodist Church, supports legal abortion. It is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Remember, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun was also a Methodist.
Q: What would you like to ask Hillary Clinton?
Paul Kengor: I'd ask, "Do you believe that life begins at conception? What do you think Jesus would say about abortion?" I think she realizes that if you acknowledge life begins at conception and that the fetus in the womb is human life, then right away you're in trouble when you start saying abortion is okay. A lot of pro-choicers think it's sophisticated, like a sign of nuance or complexity to acknowledge life begins at conception but then to offer some rationale. I think Hillary is smart to realize that once you acknowledge life begins at conception, you are in trouble right away on abortion because you must concede a life is being terminated.