A battle has erupted on Capitol Hill over the selection of a new chaplain for the United States House of Representatives.

Some observers claim that a Roman Catholic priest was deliberately passed over for the post because an historic anti-Catholic sentiment has permeated American government since its founding, while others suggest that a Protestant was selected to please the conservative evangelical political force known as the Religious Right.

Two weeks ago, House Republican leaders announced they had selected Charles Parker Wright, a Presbyterian minister, as the new chaplain.

This surprised many of the 18 members of the House select committee who spent months screening nearly 50 candidates and eventually decided via secret ballot that a Roman Catholic priest, Timothy O'Brien, was the best choice.

When House leaders passed over O'Brien who would have been the first non-Protestant in the post opponents cried foul. Meanwhile, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State called for the position itself which pays $135,200 annually and has an additional office budget of $277,000 annually to be abolished.

Some members of Congress openly speculated that House leaders were pandering to the Christian Right, a political movement that began 20 years ago as a grass-roots cause among conservative Christians to influence American politics. The Religious Right is largely credited with the 1994 election upset when Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s. Although Wright himself has no connection whatsoever with the Religious Right, observers have suggested that supporters of the Religious Right would be happier with a Protestant in the post than a Catholic.

Other members of Congress ...

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