Bill Sali Embarrasses Idaho Again
Fresh off his opening act of proposing to repeal the law of gravity while simultaneously dissing geologists, my Congressman, Bill Sali, once again is on his way to making the national news in a negative way. Congressman Sali made an appearance on a Christian radio show last week where he made some comments that reasonable people could infer were against any non-Christian expressions of religion in Congress:
Last month, the U.S. Senate was opened for the first time ever with a Hindu prayer. Although the event generated little outrage on Capitol Hill, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) is one member of Congress who believes the prayer should have never been allowed.The MountainGoat Report has links to some reactions to Rep. Sali's comments, and there's an article on the front page of today's Idaho Statesman that features some quick backtracking from the Congressman and his staff:
"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.
Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."
"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.
According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."
The election of a Muslim congressman by Minnesota voters was not "envisioned by the Founding Fathers," Idaho Congressman Bill Sali said this week.To be honest, and unfortunately, I really don't think there are a huge number of people who originally voted for Congressman Sali who would be that concerned about their representative not liking Muslims and Hindus that much. However, there is one fairly significant voting group here in the 1st District who, I believe, would be concerned if they considered some of the other religious groups that Congressman Sali's ideological allies might like to exclude from politics -- the Mormons. Members of the LDS Church have what I believe is a well-deserved repution for voting for Republican candidates by about a 2:1 margin or better. I don't know how many Mormons are in this district, but Idaho overall is about 20% LDS, so even if we only make up 15% of this district, the 5% plurality that those LDS voters would have given Mr. Sali in the last election (again, this is based on no real data) could have accounted for his margin of victory in 2006. Idaho Democratic Party chairman and former Congressman Richard Stallings made the point yesterday that Mormons should be concerned that those who hold the views expressed by Congressman Sali in the interview may target LDS Church members next.
But that doesn't mean Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison doesn't have every right to serve in Washington, D.C., Sali said.
He told the Statesman Friday that his comments quoted on a conservative Web site should not have given the impression that Ellison did not belong in Congress.
"He got elected the same way I did," Sali said. "People certainly have the right to elect anyone they want."...
...Sali said he has met fellow freshman Ellison and that he planned to call him to clarify what he was trying to say.
"I think that Keith deserves a call from me — not necessarily because of what's in my heart or in my mind, but because of how it's been portrayed," Sali said.
As Alan at IdaBlue points out, I've been asking the Sali camp for some time what Mr. Sali's views are on the question of whether or not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are, in his opinion, Christians. This is a valid question, because the national leader of Mr. Sali's church, Chuck Smith, has statements on his web site indicating that he doesn't believe that Mormons are Christians; it would be fair to assume that this could be a teaching of Mr. Sali's church. Congressman Sali is, of course, free to believe that Mormons aren't Christians; however, since he says that his policy discussions with people of other faiths would start with core principles, but religion could play a role, I think that the voters in his district should know what his stand is on the "are Mormons Christians" question.
Yesterday, the Idaho Values Alliance came out with a statement in support of Congressman Sali (no surprise there) and at the end it included a plea for people to call Mr. Sali's local office to let them know how you felt. I took them up on that offer, and talked to a very nice, very professional young lady manning the phones at Sali HQ. I asked if the Congressman's press liaison, Wayne Hoffman, could give me a call to give me a statement on Mr. Sali's views on Mormons. To my great surprise, Mr. Hoffman phoned a few hours later, and I enjoyed a nice conversation and subsequent E-mail exchange with him. He seems like a good man for the very difficult job of being Rep. Sali's PR man, and the Congressman is lucky to have him on his staff. Here's the statement Mr. Hoffman provided me:
"Based on my knowledge of the Congressman, he has a lot of good friends who are LDS, and believes they worship the same God as he does. I don't know if Congressman Sali is versed enough in Mormon beliefs (to) comment further, except to say that he does have great respect and friendship with many of those practitioners of the Mormon faith.”A very politic answer; I was impressed. I recognize that this question is one that Congressman Sali can't answer -- if he says he does believe Mormons are Christian, he makes his evangelical base mad, whereas he makes Mormon voters upset if he denies their Christianity. Still, it's hard to believe that someone who has lived in this part of Idaho for so many years could be so intellectually incurious that he wouldn't have actually reached his own conclusion on this question by this time. So, the question remains unanswered. If anyone happens to find themselves in a situation where Congressman Sali is actually answering questions from a non-screened audience (I know this isn't likely to happen), you should ask him the question directly and see how he responds -- it should be quite humorous. If he says he still doesn't know enough about Mormon beliefs, tell him that the Church would be happy to send a couple of nice young men or women around to talk to him about it.
(On a related note, I wrote back to Mr. Hoffman and asked him if he'd like to amend the statement to include an admission from the Congressman that he recognizes that Rep. Ellison also worships the same God as Rep. Sali; Mr. Hoffman declined to go that far, but in a nice way.)
Update 1557 11 Aug: Congressman Sali tried to explain himself to the editorial board of the Idaho Press-Tribune, but ended up just showing more clearly why some may question his knowledge of the U.S. and its traditions:
Friday, Sali said multiculturalism is in conflict with the national motto “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.” He said multiculturalism would mean “out of the many, the many.”Congressman Sali must really want to move us back to the 1950s -- "E Pluribus Unum" hasn't ever officially been the national motto; we first got one in 1956: "In God We Trust". Why is Rep. Sali not wanting to acknowledge that God figures prominently in the national motto? And why does he seem to want to replace it with some phrase that isn't even in English? Latin comes from Italy -- is he trying to replace American culture with that of his family's native land? Voters should be given the answers to these questions!
“The question is, is multiculturalism good or not?” Sali said. “I don’t think the Founding Fathers were multicultural. Multiculturalism is the antithesis of (the motto).”
Later, Congressman Sali tries to explain why Christianity is better than Hinduism and atheism:
In response to his concerns about the Hindu prayer offered in the Senate in July, Sali said it is Christianity that drives many good causes in the United States. “Christian principles work, and they show up in a lot of different areas,” Sali said. “Most of the hospitals in this country have Christian names. If you think Hindu prayer is great, where are the Hindu hospitals in this country? Go down the list. Where are the atheist hospitals in this country? They’re not equal.”Mr. Sali has an interesting point; however, I'm not sure it's exactly applicable. Cuba has lots of athiest hospitals, and not very many Christian ones. Does that mean that the Congressman believes atheism is better for Cuba than Christianity? Also, I'd hazard to guess that most of the Christian hospitals in this country have Catholic names. Does this mean that Rep. Sali believes that Catholicism is the best form of Christianity?
While I personally believe that Christianity is "better" than Hinduism or atheism, I'm just a lowly submarine blogger, and not a Congressman who is supposed to represent the interests of all his constituents. Rep. Sali just seems to be digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole every time he opens his mouth -- I'm just going to sit back, pull out some roasting marshmallows, and enjoy the show (and maybe throw a little more fuel on the fire while I'm at it).
Update 1935 11 Aug: Adam points out that those of us attacking (or making fun of) Congressman Sali never have anything good to say about him or bad to say about the Democrats running Congress. I haven't said bad things about Congress because, although the Democrats in Congress frequently say dumb things, so far they've passed the bills that need to be passed (the FISA bill, the emergency wartime supplemental, funding for two submarines per year, etc.) -- as I predicted they would last year. However, I'm not so sure that moderate Democrat Larry Grant wouldn't have also voted for those bills. As far as Congressman Sali goes, I'm of course happy that he voted for the wartime supplemental and FISA bill, and I like a lot of what he's been saying about reforming Congress -- I think he's just too much of a polarizing person to actually get it accomplished. One specific thing that impressed me was that he actually got an amendment that he sponsored to an actual bill passed. I honestly didn't think he had it in him, so I was pleasantly surprised.
Update 0521 19 Aug: The first set of Letters to the Editor on this issue came out in today's Idaho Statesman. They were 10-3 against Congressman Sali.