This past Easter Sunday (April 8th), NBC’s “Meet the Press” had a panel discussion about religion’s place in politics, a panel that didn’t include any atheist voices. Rev Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz provided a bumper sticker moment when she declared, contrary to the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests for office, she didn’t think an atheist should be President. It brought to my mind a 1963 rant of Alabama Governor George Wallace who declared the 14th amendment illegal. It seems Lotz and Wallace are “birds of a feather” and it’s disgraceful she would express such a bigoted statement on national television. It is yet another reason to support strict separation of church and state.
The membership of the panel on “Meet the Press” reminded me of the all-male panel of witnesses for the recent birth control coverage hearings in the US House of Representatives. The MTP Easter panel had zero atheists. Not even a token agnostic:
MR. GREGORY: This morning, a debate about the big campaign issues, including the economy and health care, and insight into the strategies for the fall with Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin and Republican Governor of battleground state Ohio John Kasich. Then faith in politics. Getting the balance right in this election year amidst controversy over religious liberty. With us this morning, His Excellency Bishop William Lori, archbishop-designate of Baltimore; founder of AnGeL Ministries and daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz; chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and United Methodist pastor Democratic congressman from Missouri, Emanuel Cleaver; Republican congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and author and executive editor at Random House, Jon Meacham.
Anne Graham Lotz had the statement of the show when she declared:
“I would not vote for a man who was an atheist because I believe you, you need to have an acknowledgement, a reverence, a fear, for almighty God, and I believe that’s where wisdom comes from.”
Some will be reminded of the statement President George H. W. Bush made in 1987 while running for President. He was Vice President at the time:
Sherman: What will you do to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists?
Bush: I guess I’m pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.
Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?
Bush: No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
Sherman (somewhat taken aback): Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?
Bush: Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I’m just not very high on atheists.
But Lotz statement also reminded me of the late Governor of Alabama George Wallace who ran on a segregationist platform in the early 1960’s. In his 1963 Inaugural Address he not only made the historic statement “. . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever” but he also said this about the 14th Amendment:
There were no government handouts, no Marshall Plan aid, no coddling to make sure that our people would not suffer; instead the South was set upon by the vulturous carpetbagger and federal troops, all loyal Southerners were denied the vote at the point of bayonet, so that the infamous, illegal 14th Amendment might be passed.
Yes Wallace believed the 14th Amendment, the one that made African-Americans officially citizens and therefore were able to vote, was illegal.
Anne Graham Lotz talking about not voting for atheists is like 1960’s era George Wallace talking about not letting African-Americans vote.
I think it’s disgusting for anyone to single out a group of people for 2nd class status whether the people are atheists, gay, or African-Americans. I am extremely disappointed in NBC for allowing such bigoted remarks by Lotz to be made on national television.