Hearings begin today on the nomination of John Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general. As anyone who has listened to a news report the past two weeks will know, it's turning into one of those elephant wars we often see in Washington. It's a huge controversy.

But there's an aspect of this dispute I don't understand. During the presidential campaign last fall, when Joe Lieberman was named as Al Gore's running mate, he flew to Nashville and began his acceptance speech with prayer. He then quoted Scripture and said that God had brought him to this moment, for this purpose.

The speech was reported, verbatim, in The New York Times and elsewhere, and Lieberman was widely acclaimed as the conscience of the Senate.

On the campaign trail Lieberman spoke openly of his devout beliefs and said, "We need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes." Well, I for one applauded his statements on the air, as did many others.

At one point the candidate was asked if he would continue his Orthodox religious practices as vice president--such as not working, or even riding in an automobile, on the Jewish Sabbath. He said he would observe his faith, and no one seemed to object.

Now, four months later, the new president-elect, George Bush, has named as his choice for attorney general a man who openly acknowledges that he is a born-again Christian. And suddenly the outraged cry from the left is deafening.

Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said, "Ashcroft wants to run a bulldozer through the wall of separation between church and state." Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont told "Meet the Press," "there is such a potential for his views to be divisive." California's Barbara Boxer said Ashcroft is "outside the mainstream of our nation," and added, "This is an extremist, not a healer."

Many have questioned whether Ashcroft could put his own religious views aside to enforce the law on issues in which he disagrees. Pundits are even questioning whether his religious beliefs will allow him to administer the laws fairly.

But wait a minute: If what Joe Lieberman said about his faith was okay, why was it suddenly wrong for John Ashcroft to say the same things?

Was it because he spoke at Bob Jones University? Many conservative politicians have done that, without embracing the school's formerly held racial views. Was it because he said, "We have no king but King Jesus." If anyone would bother to look at history, he or she would see that that this was the argument made by our forefathers during the Revolution to defend their break from allegiance to King George. And this is a common Christian belief.

So what is really happening here? Well, as columnist Mona Charen points out, there's a double standard. She commented in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, which favored Lieberman talking about religion but denounced the religious right. Charen wrote, "When a liberal talks religion, it's a revival of morality. When a conservative talks religion, it's the potential start of a new Inquisition."

Make no mistake: This double standard regarding Ashcroft's nomination amounts to a "religious test" for public office--which is expressly forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution. And it's a signal from the pro-abortion movement that anyone whose religious beliefs make him pro-life is unfit for public office. All Americans should be outraged.

And if you are outraged, I urge you to call your senators today and tell them how you feel.
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