Pat Robertson

Prayer Meetings In Government

An interview with Wolf Blitzer.

On May 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 about that.

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.