Phony charges of "anti-Christian" are being leveled against opponents offormer Sen. John Ashcroft's nomination to be U.S. attorney general. Beliefnet is carrying a fund-raising letter by Pat Robertson to Christian Coalition members saying: "They have even stooped so low as to start a smear campaign and attack his Christian beliefs." A Charisma News Service story, also on Beliefnet, says that "Liberal groups alarmed by his conservative Christian background are making an all-out effort to prevent his confirmation." Phyllis Schlafly is quoted in the Washington Post (January 9, 2001) claiming that people are "against Ashcroft because he's a pro-lifer and he's a religious man. It's as simple as that."

Christians and Jews associated with the Religious Coalition for ReproductiveChoice are outraged at these false charges. We respect Mr. Ashcroft's right to believe as he chooses and to practice his religion as he chooses, as we hope he respects our beliefs and practices. We certainly respect his right to his deeply held and sincere beliefs about abortion and contraception, and we wish he would respect ours. We do not oppose Mr. Ashcroft because we are anti-Christian; we oppose him because we are anti-extremist.

To set the record straight, the Coalition includes organizations from theEpiscopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association as well as Reform and Conservative Judaism and clergy and lay persons from these and many other Christian and Jewish denominations. The organizations have varyingpositions on a woman's right to choose. What unites them is respect forreligious freedom and the belief that reproductive decisions are best left in the hands of a woman and her God, without government interference. Calling us anti-Christian when we are Christian shows an interpretation of Christianity that is narrow and rigid.

Respect for diverse views and beliefs, including those about abortion,contraception, and sexuality education, is at the core of being religious and pro-choice. In fact, pro-choice people of faith are defined by their commitment to respecting individual conscience and beliefs, a distinction thereligious right seems not to understand.

Mr. Ashcroft's failure to respect religious diversity is evident in hisadvocacy of a "Human Life" constitutional amendment that would make the belief that life begins at conception the law of the land. Let's consider the many consequences. First, the amendment would prohibit virtually allabortions--including those for reasons of rape or incest--and could be invokedto ban some of the most widely accepted and dependable forms of contraception, such as the pill and intrauterine devices.

Second, the amendment would undermine our constitutional guarantee ofreligious freedom. As ethicist Dr. John Swomley has written, "Since only some religious organizations or churches use this definition [that personhood begins at fertilization], the adoption of such language would mark the endof a secular Constitution and make the Constitution the captive of religionsthat consider fetal life beginning with fertilization more important than the woman in whose womb the conceptus is implanted."

But there's more. The assertion that the fetus is a person leads to thenotion that fetuses have citizenship rights and that these rights are equal to--or superior to--the rights of women. Such fetal rights and fetal protection legislation have been used to punish women for their behavior duringpregnancy. Prosecuting women for illegal drug and alcohol use duringpregnancy opens the way to prosecuting any behavior by a pregnant woman, such as smoking, drinking caffeine, jogging late in pregnancy, or failing to follow a doctor's orders.

In opposing Ashcroft's nomination, we are not criticizing his faith or hisviews. We are pointing out he has a track record as an advocate who is so extreme that he has repeatedly tried to impose his beliefs on others and outlaw the right of a woman to make the most personal choices about herfamily life.

How can a man of faith raise his hand to swear he will uphold the law of theland, including Roe v. Wade, when he believes the law is wrong and has dedicated the past 25 years of his life to overturning the law? Mr. Ashcroft's extreme ideology and voting record regarding reproductive decisions show a lack of respect for religious diversity and individual conscience. John Ashcroft isthe wrong person to be the chief law enforcement officer of a religiouslydiverse nation such as ours.