This week, Jesse Jackson, fresh from his starring role in the Florida follies, has announced that he'll personally lead a campaign to block confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

Jackson said he would lobby senators. "Those who are with the civil rights agenda must not choose collegiality over civil rights and social justice," he demanded. Apparently Jackson believes Ashcroft is bigoted because he opposed confirmation of a judge who is African-American. Well, if there's bigotry here, I'd suggest it's not on Ashcroft's part.

I've known John Ashcroft for more than twenty years. He's not only a personal friend but a public servant I admire greatly. A first-class lawyer, educated at Yale and the University of Chicago, he served with distinction for two terms as Attorney General of Missouri. He then served two very successful terms as Governor.

What is it he believes that gets people like Jesse Jackson so upset? It can't be his civil rights record. As Governor, he signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. He declared musician Scott Joplin's home a Missouri historic site. He created an award honoring the black educator George Washington Carver. He named a black woman to a state judgeship, and he led the fight to save Lincoln University, founded by black soldiers.

As a Christian, he believes deeply in what the Founders said in the Declaration of Independence-- that "all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Yes, he opposed a judicial nominee who happened to be an African-American. But it was the judge's record, not his race, that aroused Ashcroft's opposition. Can't a public official who is white object to an appointee who is black without being accused of racism?

No, what's really at issue here is that Ashcroft is an evangelical and is not bashful about his beliefs. He believes in the Bible, he's outspokenly pro-life, and he's opposed to the gay-rights agenda.

What's happening here, you see, goes beyond Ashcroft or his fitness for office. Many on the Left just don't like what he believes. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis recently labeled Ashcroft an "ultra conservative" for his pro-life views. When is the last time you heard the media call anyone on the Left an "ultra liberal"?

What arouses the ire of Jackson and others is that Ashcroft is a conservative, Bible-believing evangelical Christian. This is just what happened last month to Stockwell Day, a Pentecostal running for prime minister in Canada. He was vilified daily in the media because of his religious beliefs. Have we sunk to that point in this country?

It's time for Americans to see this for what it is. Jesse Jackson may once have been a responsible civil rights leader, but he has become totally politicized. And, sadly, he plays the race card, condemning people as racist if they don't agree with him.

This is dangerously polarizing and threatens to undo much of the good done by the civil rights movement.

If you agree that John Ashcroft should be confirmed, let your senators know how you feel. Write them a letter, and when the confirmation hearings begin, give them a call. It's time for Christians to speak up, not just for our own, but against the bigotry that would isolate evangelical Christians from American public life.

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