Democratic Religious Advisor Resigns After Criticism

Rev. Peterson quits her job after less than two weeks after a series of press releases from a Catholic organization showed her unfit to be a religious advisor.
( [email protected] ) Aug 06, 2004 06:02 PM EDT

The Democratic Party’s first Senior Religious Adviser resigned on August 4 after she faced a huge wave of criticism launched by a Catholic organization for her support to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rev. Brenda Bartella-Peterson, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, stepped down from her position, blaming "recent negative publicity.”

After Peterson’s appointment less than two weeks ago, the Catholic League, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, began issuing a series of press releases exposing Peterson’s support for atheist Michael Newdow who was suing to remove the reference to God in the pledge. She was one of the 32 clergy members who had filed a friend-to-the-court-brief in the case. The court later dismissed the case on the basis of technicality.

But the three consecutive press releases faxed to media agencies nationwide up to the day of Peterson’s resignation proved effective.

“When we exposed Rev. Peterson as a Left-wing activist who went into the U.S. Supreme Court on the side of atheist Michael Newdow to censor the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge, she was forced to quit her role with the DNC,” said Catholic League president William Donohue upon hearing news of her resignation.

In the first press release, Donahue responded to statements made by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe on the day of Peterson’s appointment. McAuliffe said Peterson “will act as liaison to religious organizations and will encourage people to let their faith inform their participation in democracy.”

Donahue questioned if the “DNC have totally lost their senses” since they have made poor decision in choosing a person whose “brief shows infinitely more concern for the sensibilities of atheists like Newdow than it does for the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God” as their religious advisor.

“And this is the person the Democrats want to dispatch to meet with the heads of religious organizations?” Donahue asked rhetorically in the statement. “Are they out of their minds? Would they hire a gay basher to reach out to homosexuals?”

The group continue making statements in its second press release that showed Peterson was not qualified to act as the DNC’s top religious advisor based on the views she expressed while working at her former job at Clergy Leadership Network, who Donahue described as being “more at home with politics than religion.” Peterson, according to the Catholic League president, did not give a clear answer when asked whether she believed Muslims and Christians shared the same God, does not have a stance on abortions, and believes that paying taxes is a way of loving your neighbor.

“The ‘Focus Statement’ of the CLN website even says that ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual [and] transsexual people are being attacked through legislation and even constitutional amendments.’ It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Rev. Peterson believes,” Donahue said in the third issued statement informing of Peterson stance on the federal amendment.

"The whirlwind was more than I could just about stand. It was amazing," Peterson said during her resignation speech. "I feel it is no longer possible for me to do my job effectively."

"I do not want my support of this case to serve as a distraction or ammunition for Republicans and their allies," Peterson said in a statement released to the media. However, she said she still believes that "John Kerry's values of opportunity, family and responsibility are America's values."

"It reads almost like a parody — the Kerry-Edwards ticket seeks to reach out to religious Americans, so they hire an extremist activist who's on the record against the things that religious Americans value," said Russell Moore, dean of the divinity school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Democratic congressional staffer.

"To me, this demonstrates just how out of touch the Kerry-Edwards ticket is with religious Americans,” he added.

Peterson, was a former pastor at a Disciples of Christ church in Georgetown, Ky., after graduating from Georgetown College, Baptist-affiliated school. She then went on to earn a master's in communications from the University of Kentucky and a master's of divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary, a Disciples-affiliated school.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brian Richardson said he didn’t know if the Democratic officials knew about Peterson’s involvement in the Pledge of Allegiance case before appointing her.

Richardson called her resignation "unfortunate" but one on which the committee agreed. He said the committee is “still actively reaching out to people of all faiths" and reviewing candidates to succeed her.

Donahue doubted that the committee was unaware of Peterson’s role and liberal views. Before Peterson, the Catholic Action League also exposed “Mara Vanderslice, as a Left-wing activist who cavorts with anti-Catholics” leading to the party’s rejection to make her their Religious Outreach Director.

“The only question now is whether John Kerry and the DNC have finally got the message,” he asked. “The first hire may have been a mistake, but it is not credible to maintain that the DNC erred in hiring Rev. Peterson: they knew what they were getting and they knew what happened to Vanderslice, and yet they persisted anyway.”

“Why are Kerry and the DNC imploding on religion? Because too many of the elites running the show are devout secularists who put a premium on freedom from religion.”