More than 20 prominent Catholic leaders and two Republican U.S. congressmen — House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan — are sending a letter to President Barack Obama charging that a recent appointee to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is a "virulent anti-Catholic bigot."
The letter calls for the removal from the council of Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith program for Human Rights Campaign, a group that identifies itself as the "largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization."
Catholic leaders say Knox is unfit to serve on the council. The White House has defined its ecumenical role as working "on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs."
The letter to President Obama states: "You claim to have created this Council, among other things, to 'bring everyone together – from both the secular and faith-based communities.' Harry Knox is the hate-filled antithesis of this noble objective. Knox is a virulent anti-Catholic bigot, and has made numerous vile and dishonest attacks against the Church and the Holy Father. He has no business on any Council having to do with faith and religion."
Contacted Wednesday morning by Newsmax to respond to the letter, Knox said "It's clearly not the truth."
He added: "I love the Catholic Church and love my Catholic sisters and brothers very much. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Roman Catholic Church and for all the good that it does. I do think that we have a real disagreement about the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, both in the role of the church and in the role of public service."
Instances of anti-Catholic rhetoric the group attributes to Knox include: On March 17, Knox posted a statement on the Human Rights Campaign site blaming the Pope for "hurting people in the name of Jesus" for opposing the distribution of condoms in Africa to stem the spread of AIDS. Knox called the Pope's position "morally reprehensible." Regarding the church's opposition to giving communion to a lesbian couple, Knox posted on April 6 that it is "immoral and insulting to Jesus to use the body and blood of Christ the reconciler as a weapon to silence free speech and demean the love of a committed, legally married couple." Knox and the Human Rights Campaign signed a statement accusing the Vatican of "sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable," because it refused to sign a U.N. agreement that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. On April 6, Knox reportedly told CNSNews that the Pope is "doing a great deal more harm than good — not just in Africa but around the world. It is endangering people’s lives.”
"If we Catholics put up with a guy like him, then in fact we Catholics have given the green light to the Obama administration to continue to appoint guys like him," says Catholic League President Bill Donohue.
Among those who signed the letter: L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center; Chuck Donovan, executive vice present of the Family Research Council; Philip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; Kate O'Beirne, president of the National Review Institute; Al Regnery, publisher of The American Spectator; Phyllis Schlafly, founder and president of the Eagle Forum; and Richard Viguerie, chairman of American Target Advertising.
It's not the first time the Knox appointment has drawn fire from conservatives.
On April 9, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the chairman of the House Republican Conference, called for President Obama to withdraw the Knox appointment, saying it "makes a mockery out of the religious beliefs of countless Americans."
"This selection," Pence stated, "furthers the divisive politics the American people have rejected and the president promised to abandon. Appointing a man who has publicly attacked the Pope and other religious leaders for their support of traditional marriage is deeply offensive to millions of Americans and the faith-based community he is appointed to serve."
The protest against Knox's appointment comes in the context of a decision by former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, an evangelical Christian, to decline an invitation from the president to join the faith-based office.
Pro-gay rights organizations criticized Dungy's appointment because he had supported a 2007 move in Indiana to ban same-sex marriage. According to an Associated Press report, the White House said that Dungy had cited scheduling conflicts as his reason for turning down the invitation to join the Council.
Donohue said Wednesday that Dungy was "basically required to decline the invitation due to liberal pressure groups. Tony Dungy's 'great sin' is that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. So the left can come in and knock out him, but we're supposed to put up with Harry Knox. It doesn't work folks!"
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