The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House
U.S. Capitol, Room 232
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Hastert:
As Catholics who for many years have been engaged in public life, we have been alarmed and disheartened by recent political attempts to divide Catholics from evangelicals in the public square. We deplore the semi-truths and outright falsehoods recently deployed by unwise persons to inflame passion and to sow acrimony among good people, who during the last twenty years have made extraordinary progress in mutual cooperation and mutual esteem.
Indeed, we would like to go on record in commending many of our evangelical colleagues for the spirit of amity and cooperation they have shown to Catholics over the past two decades, and for their increasingly warm and close cooperation with Catholics on many practical issues of common concern. We have learned to admire deeply the witness to Christian faith and to American civic life demonstrated by our Protestant friends. We do our best to emulate it, but often they have set a very high example.
We think it very odd that evangelicals are sometimes accused of being exclusionary, when in our experience they have gone out of their way to include other Americans of many different faiths in their public meetings and their public efforts. We have noted with admiration that they have often supported political candidates who do not support their entire agenda, but who are willing to go along with them on at least some of those points-regarding the pro-life cause, for example. In fact, evangelicals have often been more open-minded and more inclusionary than those on the other side, who demand uncritical adherence to their total agenda, including even support for the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion. It seems to us that the absolutism is all on the other side, and that a sense of compromise and realism is well-practiced by our evangelical friends, who are so unfairly maligned.
Mr. Speaker, we regret very much that expressing contumely and disdain for evangelical Christians is the last permissible bigotry in American public life. People who would be ashamed to utter anti-Semitic comments, and mortified to be found guilty of anti-Catholic expressions, seem to think nothing at all of casting insults at evangelical Christians. Every form of bigotry is deplorable, but especially those forms which still bask in the glow of public approval.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, we commend your efforts to open up the selection of a new chaplain for the House. Normally, we would not comment on a process of the House, but we recognize that there has been a good deal of controversy surrounding this issue. Never before in history has any Speaker opened up the process in the way that you did. We have learned from participants that at the end of their deliberations, the selection committee composed of nine Democrats and nine Republicans, and co-chaired by both a Catholic and a Protestant, congratulated one another on the amity, friendship, and fairness of their proceedings. They believed they had presented you with a slate of three very strong candidates, any one of whom would make a good chaplain. Many said this was the best bipartisan and amicable effort they had ever participated in.
We find it admirable that in the winnowing process from 38 candidates to 17 at the second stage, all three Catholic priests made the cut. In the nextround of cuts, to six candidates, and in the third round, to the final three, a Catholic priest gained the confidence of the selection committee and was proudly put forward as one of the three finalists. We believe all this was evidence of consummate fairness on the part of the selection committee. We commend you for conceiving of this process. We recognize that it is an important prerogative of the office of the Speaker to take responsibility for the final choice of Chaplain, and we support you in making that judgment as you see fit, undeterred by crassly political considerations.
Our overriding aim in this letter, however, is to put on the record our esteem for our evangelical and Protestant colleagues in the House and in public life generally, and to commend them for their willingness to work with Catholics, to engage in the give-and-take of public debate, and to put before us such high examples of civic initiative and cooperation to emulate.
We hope very much that public amity among peoples of different fundamental traditions will soon be returned to American public life, and that efforts to divide the American people on such grounds will come to a speedy end.
William J. Bennett Michael Novak