|An interview with Wolf Blitzer.
20, 2001, Wolf Blitzer interviewed Pat Robertson and Father Robert
Drinan about John Ashcroft's prayer meetings. Ashcroft, U.S. Attorney
General, has been criticized for holding morning prayer and Bible
study sessions in his office.
The segment was introduced as follows: Up next, Attorney General
John Ashcroft's practice of holding prayer sessions at the Justice
Department is drawing criticism from some quarters. Should religion
have a place in government? We'll get the views of two of leading
clergymen: Pat Robertson and law professor Father Robert Drinan.
(Video) John Ashcroft, U.S. Attorney General: Because we have understood
that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have
no king but Jesus.
Blitzer: John Ashcroft speaking at Bob Jones University in 1999.
The speech provoked controversy at Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation hearings
for attorney general. †This past week, it was his daily Bible
sessions at the Justice Department that caused another stir. While
agency employees are not required to attend the meetings, some critics
say the move blurs the separation between church and state.
With us now to offer their perspectives on the controversy are two
leading clergymen. Joining us from Virginia Beach, Virginia, is
Pat Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate. And here
in Washington, Georgetown law professor and former Democratic congressman,
Father Robert Drinan.
Gentlemen, thanks for joining us. Welcome back to Late Edition.
Pat Robertson let me begin with you. The argument against allowing
these sessions to go forward at the Justice Department, these prayer
meetings in the morning that the attorney general has been hosting,
was made by Barry Lynn earlier this week. Barry Lynn, as you know,
is very active in opposing any mix between church and state. Listen
to what he said.
(Video) Barry Lynn: If you're talking about the top law enforcement
official of the United States, he really ought to have the common
sense and the common decency to stop this practice. I think this
practice really goes beyond what is going to make people comfortable
to be employees.
Blitzer: Pat Robertson, do you understand why some employees say
that they are uncomfortable by what the attorney general is doing?
Pat Robertson: You know, Wolf, itís absolute nonsense. I mean,
they have 135,000 employees in the Justice Department. So 20 or
30 of them meet with John Ashcroft for private prayer. There are
probably 20 or 30 prayer meetings going on in the Congress. My father,
for example, when he was a United States Senator, used to meet with
a breakfast group on Wednesday of senators, and they would pray
together and read the Bible in the dining room of the United States
Senate. And The Washington Post didn't make a front page headline
I'm just shocked that the liberals are making so much fuss about
this, because it's John Ashcroft's absolute constitutional right
to pray privately with a group of people.
Blitzer: Let me ask Father Drinan. The attorney general, John Ashcroft,
is quoted in the new issue of Time magazine as saying, "I don't
think the fact that I might want to invite the wisdom of the almighty
into my decision-making is a threat to anyone."
Father Robert Drinan, Georgetown University Law Center: Well, the
liberals, unlike what was just said, are not making a big deal of
this. All we know is 1,700 words one morning in The Washington Post.
It's a one-day story.
I think you can argue, however, that it is in violation of the spirit,
if not the letter, of the federal guidelines. This has been a problem.
Everyone wants every individual to exhibit his religion in appropriate
ways, and you could argue that the attorney general has not done
that. He has, in essence, excluded some people.
I prayed every day during my 10 years with the Congress. The bravery
set by Catholic priests are right there. But I didn't importune
or invite other people to do it.
No one is against prayer. But in this particular case, I think that
the argument that Barry Lynn makes has to be taken seriously.
Blitzer: Pat Robertson, one of the arguments that was made in that
Washington Post article that Father Drinan referred to is some senior
officials saying that they think that if they don't go to those
prayer sessions with the attorney general, it could perhaps indirectly
affect their careers.
Robertson: Again, Wolf thatís nonsense. Because out of, as
I say, 130,000 or 135,000 employees, how in the world could the
fact that 10 or 15 or 20 of them come to pray with the attorney
general have any impact? One of the participants, I understand,
is an Orthodox Jew. Others were Catholic, some were Protestant.
And there was absolutely no compulsion whatsoever, any merits or
demerits assigned to those who prayed. It was just a small group
invoking God's blessing, like happens all the time on Capitol Hill.
Blitzer: Father Drinan, when you were a member of Congress, you
prayed while you were a member of Congress. Did you ever pray with
members of your staff?
Drinan: Never. No, I think that would be deemed inappropriate. Furthermore...
Blitzer: Why would it be deemed inappropriate?
Drinan: First, because of what Jesus says in the Gospel, that when
you want to pray you should go alone into your room so that you
don't stir up others. But, no, I think it's just inappropriate is
the best word. I'm not saying it's unconstitutional, but I don't
think that this is done by the highest law authority in the country.
Blitzer: Pat Robertson, you heard what Father Drinan said. What
do you say about that?
Robertson: Well, you know, the father is a very respected man. He
has got more honors than I'll ever dream of, so I admire his distinguished
career. †But the truth is, the Roman Catholic Church every
Sunday morning has Mass where the communicants come together and
they pray. And I'm involved in a Baptist congregation and other
congregations where every Sunday morning we pray corporately. And
to say that the words of Jesus mean that you've got to go pray privately
would negate all of the public affirmation of faith in every church
in America, and he knows that's not true.
Blitzer: Father Drinan?
Drinan: This is the least of the problem that I have with Mr. Ashcroft.
And I think we've got to focus on the death penalty, on the number
in jail has tripled in the last 15 years and on civil rights throughout
the country. Mr. Ashcroft was rejected by a significant number of
senators and by the black community, and those are the things on
which we should focus attention.
Blitzer: All right, gentlemen, we're going to take a quick break.
We have a lot more to talk about.
Blitzer: And now back to our conversation with Pat Robertson and
Georgetown University law professor and former Democratic Congressman
Father Robert Drinan.
Blitzer: Pat Robertson, I know you want to respond to that, but
I want to give you a chance to respond -- the last time I interviewed
you on my week night program, you caused a huge stir by words that
you uttered as far as the issue of force abortions in China. I want
to play an excerpt from that interview and give you a chance to
explain to our audience around the world what precisely you meant.
Listen to this.
(Video)Robertson: Well, you know, I don't agree with it, but at
the same time, they've got one 1.2 billion people and they don't
know what to do. If every family over there was allowed to have
three or four children, the population would be completely unsustainable.
Blitzer: A lot of your critics, including among the religious right,
say they were outraged by what they heard.
Robertson: Wolf, they were. And I must say, the one thing I should
never do is get on your program when I'm a little fatigued, and
I was fatigued at that particular moment. I'm not fatigued now.
I'm unalterably opposed to forced abortions, and I don't agree with
it in China or any other country.
But, and I say this, if we can't stop partial birth abortion in
the United States -- and the Congress right now is refusing to put
forth a simple law to stop what amounts to infanticide. If we can't
do that in America, why are we so concerned about other countries?
I think we ought to deal with the fact that we've got 35 or so million
abortions in America. We need to get our own house in order.
Blitzer: Pat Robertson had the first word. Father Drinan, you'll
have the last word.
Drinan: I think that the problem of overpopulation around the whole
world has to be solved by rational means, by helping these people
to help themselves, by allowing them to know that their children
will live to the average age. In some countries, half the children
die by the age of 10.
We all deplore what is happening in China. At the same time, we
should say as citizens of the world, we have to face the fact that,
yes, as he says, there's 42 million abortions every year in the
whole world, and there's something wrong with that. But that to
impose this on other people is just wrong.
And one last point, Pat Robertson should have said to the audience,
partial-birth abortion, as practiced in Nebraska in that law, was
nullified, declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Blitzer: All right, Pat Robertson, I'll give you a chance to respond
since he made a direct reference to you. You'll have the last word.
Robertson: Thanks, Wolf.
Listen, I was shocked at that decision and so was Jay Sekulow, who
heads up my American Center for Law and Justice. We could not believe
that the Supreme Court struck down that initiative in Nebraska.
We couldn't believe it, and I think they've gone over the line on
that one. And I would hope that, maybe with another appointment
to the court, that 5-4 majority would be swung in favor of life,
not in favor of death.
Blitzer: All right, let's leave it right there. Pat Robertson, Father
Robert Drinan, thanks to both of you for joining us.