Prominent Washington-based Republican Catholics William J. Bennett, co-director of Empower America and Michael Novak, director of social and political studies at the American Enterprise Institute Tuesday sent an open letter to House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert criticizing "recent political attempts" to "inflame passion and sow acrimony" between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. The text is published here with permission.

March 7, 2000

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 havebeen alarmed and disheartened by recent political attempts to divideCatholics from evangelicals in the public square. We deplore thesemi-truths and outright falsehoods recently deployed by unwise persons toinflame passion and to sow acrimony among good people, who during the lasttwenty years have made extraordinary progress in mutual cooperation andmutual esteem.

Indeed, we would like to go on record in commending many of our evangelicalcolleagues for the spirit of amity and cooperation they have shown toCatholics over the past two decades, and for their increasingly warm andclose cooperation with Catholics on many practical issues of common concern.We have learned to admire deeply the witness to Christian faith and toAmerican civic life demonstrated by our Protestant friends. We do our bestto emulate it, but often they have set a very high example.

We think it very odd that evangelicals are sometimes accused of beingexclusionary, when in our experience they have gone out of their way toinclude other Americans of many different faiths in their public meetingsand their public efforts. We have noted with admiration that they haveoften supported political candidates who do not support their entire agenda,but who are willing to go along with them on at least some of thosepoints-regarding the pro-life cause, for example. In fact, evangelicalshave often been more open-minded and more inclusionary than those on theother side, who demand uncritical adherence to their total agenda, includingeven support for the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion. It seemsto us that the absolutism is all on the other side, and that a sense ofcompromise and realism is well-practiced by our evangelical friends, who areso unfairly maligned.

Mr. Speaker, we regret very much that expressing contumely and disdain forevangelical Christians is the last permissible bigotry in American publiclife. People who would be ashamed to utter anti-Semitic comments, andmortified to be found guilty of anti-Catholic expressions, seem to thinknothing at all of casting insults at evangelical Christians. Every form ofbigotry is deplorable, but especially those forms which still bask in theglow of public approval.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, we commend your efforts to open up the selection of anew chaplain for the House. Normally, we would not comment on a process ofthe House, but we recognize that there has been a good deal of controversysurrounding this issue. Never before in history has any Speaker opened upthe process in the way that you did. We have learned from participants thatat the end of their deliberations, the selection committee composed of nineDemocrats and nine Republicans, and co-chaired by both a Catholic and aProtestant, congratulated one another on the amity, friendship, and fairnessof their proceedings. They believed they had presented you with a slate ofthree very strong candidates, any one of whom would make a good chaplain.Many said this was the best bipartisan and amicable effort they had everparticipated in.

We find it admirable that in the winnowing process from 38 candidates to 17at 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 finalthree, a Catholic priest gained the confidence of the selection committeeand was proudly put forward as one of the three finalists. We believe allthis was evidence of consummate fairness on the part of the selectioncommittee. We commend you for conceiving of this process. We recognizethat it is an important prerogative of the office of the Speaker to takeresponsibility for the final choice of Chaplain, and we support you inmaking that judgment as you see fit, undeterred by crassly politicalconsiderations.Our overriding aim in this letter, however, is to put on the record ouresteem for our evangelical and Protestant colleagues in the House and inpublic life generally, and to commend them for their willingness to workwith Catholics, to engage in the give-and-take of public debate, and to putbefore us such high examples of civic initiative and cooperation to emulate.

We hope very much that public amity among peoples of different fundamentaltraditions will soon be returned to American public life, and that effortsto divide the American people on such grounds will come to a speedy end.

Respectfully submitted,

William J. BennettMichael Novak