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Amid criticism, Akin says liberalism - not any individual liberal - reflects 'hatred of God'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 29, 2011 - Seven years ago, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, persuaded the U.S. House to approve his "Pledge Protection Act," which was aimed at protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance from what Akin feared was an effort by "activist judges" to strip out the words.

The U.S. Senate never OKed the measure, and the words "under God" remain in the pledge.

But such concerns by Akin, says a spokesman, are at the heart of the controversy over his latest comments in a radio interview last Friday with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Akin's statements are capturing more attention than usual, both sides agree, because he's now running for the GOP nomination for for the U.S. Senate and the chance to unseat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

In the radio interview, Akin and Perkins were discussing NBC's decision, during its coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament, to cut out the phrase "under God" from its taped segment of the pledge.

Akin got into his Pledge Protection Act mode and contended that NBC's act "was done systematically, it was done intentionally, and is tremendously corrosive in terms of all of the values and everything that's made America unique and such a special nation."

He then went on say, "I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they've had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country."

Akin added that there is "a systematic effort to try to separate our faith and God, which is a source in our belief in individual liberties, from our country. And when you do that you tear the heart out of our country."

(Click here to listen to the entire interview.)

On Monday, Akin generated more controversy when he stuck by his general stance during an interview on Mark Reardon's radio show on KMOX (1120 AM). "I don't think there's anything to apologize for," Akin said on the show. "I'm not going to apologize for what I see liberalism doing."

(Click here for the whole KMOX interview.)

On Monday, several members of the clergy issued statements of rebuke. The Rev. Rebecca Turner, who leads the progressive religious coalition Faith Aloud, called Akin's comment "an outrageous insult to all who follow their faith toward policies of compassion and justice, and is not befitting a member of Congress."

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth accused the congressman of making "a mockery of his own understanding of these liberal values and of God. The many who embrace liberal values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and democracy, among many others, include those who love God and who have deep faith as well as those with more questions about God than answers.

"Many 'liberals' believe in a God who is just and kind, merciful, compassionate, loving and good, a God who has created human beings with the intellect and capacity to govern ourselves in societies of freedom and peace," the rabbi added. "We affirm the rights of each human being to understand God in his or her own way, and we decry the arrogance that leads others to attempt to legislate faith."

Akin spokesman Steve Taylor said late Monday that the congressman was reacting to NBC's decision to "redact public references to God in the public square," and was referring to "liberalism" as a philosophy, not the liberals who practice it.

But Akin does believe, the spokesman said, that some liberals have "a hatred or strong opposition to the use or reference of God in the public square."

The gist of Akin's argument, continued Taylor, is his belief that "our rights are given by God," and what he sees as the liberal belief that "our rights are given to us by government or by consent of the governed."

What Akin wanted to make clear, his spokesman said, is that "he's not speaking about individual relationships to God."

In any case, Akin recognizes, Taylor added, that the controversy over his views will likely continue. "It's a long debate," he said. "That's the nature of politics."

That sentiment was echoed in a statement Akin released Tuesday:

"People, who know me and my family, know that we take our faith and beliefs very seriously. As Christians, we would never question the sincerity of anyone's personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies."

But the group of offended clergy dismisses that apology, and plans to show up Wednesday at Akin's district office in Ballwin. In a statement, the clergy said it wants a true apology from the congressman, and declared, "Such insulting pronouncements degrade our nation's political dialogue and are unworthy of a public servant who claims to represent the interests of all of his constituents."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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