Congressional Leaders Sponsor Birthday Gala for Pat Robertson

Article excerpt

Top leaders of Congress helped cosponsor a birthday celebration for TV preacher Pat Robertson in March, despite the religious broadcaster's record of religious and political extremism.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) were among the "Inner Circle Sponsors" on the invitations for the Pat Robertson 70th Birthday Celebration, which took place March 24 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Other "Inner Circle Sponsors" included U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

Ironically, although the officials' names were listed prominently on invitations for the $50 per person event, observers who attended didn't see any of them there. However, top officials from Robertson's home state were well represented at the five-hour celebration. They included Gov. Jim Gilmore, Lieutenant Gov. John Hager and Attorney General Mark Earley. (Gilmore sat beside Robertson at the head table during the dinner.)

Americans United criticized the congressional endorsement of the TV preacher. Said AU's Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "Pat Robertson makes Bob Jones III look tolerant, yet major leaders of Congress still sign up to kiss his ring and toss him flowers. What a disgrace!"

Lynn charged that Robertson's power in Congress and in national political circles has reached new heights even though his Christian Coalition has waned in influence.

Lynn also said that Robertson's rhetoric has remained extreme. The day before the event, Americans United released a document to the media pointing out Robertson's long track record of extremism (see www.au.org).

Although members of Congress were in short supply, a number of Religious Right personalities turned out. Among those in attendance were the Rev. Jerry Falwell (who gave the invocation), evangelist Benny Hinn, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed, school prayer activist William Murray and the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The birthday celebration was held under the aegis of the "Pat Robertson 70th Birthday Committee, Inc.," a separate group set up for the occasion. Observers believe the Christian Coalition and Robertson's religious ministries were kept at arm's length so that nervous donors could claim they were not supporting Robertson's extreme political and religious agenda. …