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Religion at forefront in Miers nomination
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON — President Bush and his aides yesterday defended their efforts to inject religion into the confirmation fight over Harriet Miers, suggesting faith is a legitimate factor in evaluating her Supreme Court nomination.
Bush aides have cited Miers' membership in an evangelical Christian church in urging conservatives to support her.
"People want to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background," Bush said. "Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion."
Miers' religious beliefs have taken on a bigger role since Christian broadcaster James Dobson cited her church affiliation as one reason for his support. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, an evangelical group that opposes abortion, told listeners last week that he learned about Miers' faith in a conversation with presidential adviser Karl Rove on Oct. 1, two days before her nomination.
Dobson also said yesterday that Rove told him some court candidates bowed out because they didn't want to subject themselves or their families to a confirmation that "has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter."
Miers has been an active member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, a nondenominational congregation that urges members to put their religious views to work in the community.
Democrats accused the president and his aides of talking to their conservative allies in code, in effect assuring them that Miers would oppose abortion on the court.
"The rest of America, including the Senate, deserves to know what he and the White House know," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said yesterday, referring to Dobson. "We don't confirm justices of the Supreme Court on a wink and a nod. And a litmus test is no less a litmus test by using whispers and signals."
Liberal groups noted that White House officials took issue with Democratic senators who wanted to discuss Chief Justice John Roberts' religious beliefs. Roberts is a Catholic.
"We were told we weren't even allowed to bring up the topic of religion when John G. Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Anyone who did was quickly labeled a bigot. Now Bush and Rove are touting where Miers goes to church and using that as a selling point. The hypocrisy is staggering."
"We do not doubt Miss Miers' faith in Christ — we share it," LaRue wrote in a memo posted on the organization's Web site. "We find it patronizing and hypocritical to focus on her faith in order to gain support for Miss Miers."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that Rove and other officials had cited Miers' faith to fill in her biography, not to signal how she would vote.
Material from the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press is included in this report
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