On the memorial eve of this century's deadliest church shooting, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush promised to aggressively fight religious bigotry and said the Clinton Administration should be held accountable for labeling Southern Baptists as "perpetrators of religious hatred."
"People who belittle people of faith are exhibiting bigotry," Bush told Baptist Press, the national news service of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). "That bigotry comes in the form of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism—in some movies recently produced—and anti-Southern Baptist. It's religious bigotry pure and simple. Our nation is founded on religious freedom—the principle that people ought to be able to practice religious freedom and speak their mind, freely."
Bush made his remarks during an interview with Will Hall, the SBC's vice president for convention news, following a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Bush said he was particularly disturbed by comments the White House made about Southern Baptists just three months after seven Southern Baptists were gunned down during a worship service at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
During a December 1999 press conference, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart accused Southern Baptists of being "perpetrators of religious hatred." The response came following a question about Southern Baptist evangelism efforts towards Jews.
"Somebody should take the president to task," Bush said. "That spokesman needs to be held accountable for what he said. Religious freedom means that: religious freedom."
A study of speeches delivered by President Clinton in the months following the shooting revealed only one reference to Wedgwood Baptist Church, compared to more than 100 of Matthew Shepherd, ...1