Bush defends talk of Miers’ religion

WASHINGTON – President Bush and his advisers on Wednesday defended their efforts to inject religion into the confirmation fight over Harriet Miers, suggesting that faith is a legitimate factor in evaluating her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Presidential 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. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas.”

Miers’ religious beliefs have taken on a bigger role in the confirmation fight since Christian broadcaster James Dobson cited her church affiliation as one reason for his support. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, an evangelical group that opposes abortion, told his listeners last week that he learned about Miers’ faith in a telephone conversation with presidential adviser Karl Rove on Oct. 1, two days before Bush announced her nomination.

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 Wednesday, 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.”

In another development Wednesday, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson referred to Miers’ faith in threatening political retaliation against Republican senators who oppose her nomination.

“Now they’re going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative president and they’re going to vote against her for confirmation? Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office,” Robertson said on his “700 Club” television show.

In discussing Miers’ religion Wednesday, Bush and his advisers drew a distinction between her religious views and her legal philosophy. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Rove and other officials had cited Miers’ faith to fill in her biography, not to signal how she’d vote on the court.

“Harriet Miers is a person of faith. She recognizes, however, that a person’s religion or personal views have no role when it comes to making decisions as a judge,” McClellan said. “People want to know who she is.”

Even some Christian conservatives have objected to the focus on Miers’ religion. Jan LaRue, the chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, which promotes the application of “biblical principles” to public policy, decried what she called the “continual emphasis” on Miers’ faith by the White House and its allies.

“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.”

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