Have you noticed what critics of John Ashcroft cite as the core of their concerns about the attorney general nominee?

It’s a quote from him in which he proclaims he serves “no king but Jesus.”

Actually, in context, Ashcroft said this: “A slogan of the American Revolution was the line, ‘We have no king but Jesus.'”

That is 100 percent accurate. Colonial America rebelled against paying tribute to King George, saying they had “no king but Jesus.”

It was not only a slogan of the War for Independence, it was the cornerstone of the philosophy that led to the Constitution, with its concepts of a limited federal government and separation of powers.

So, understanding the history and context of this quotation, why would Ashcroft’s critics zero in on such a seemingly non-controversial remark?

One of the architects of the secular smear campaign against Ashcroft is Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He characterized the “Jesus” line as “totally unacceptable.” He was joined in knee-jerk fashion by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League who called upon Ashcroft to assure Americans that his “religious beliefs would not dictate” how he would carry out his job.

Since then, newspaper reporters and commentators around the country have seized on this comment as if it were the smoking gun that proved Ashcroft unfit for the job of attorney general.

What is so threatening to Americans about this statement? Do they think we serve a king in this country? Is that what the federal government has become? Or, worse, is this attack on Ashcroft’s belief an attempt to disqualify him because of his traditional Christian religious beliefs?

Not only did this slogan, “No king but Jesus,” in many ways, inspire the American vision of freedom and self-government, it is a slogan with a history that goes back to the First Century church.

Let me remind you of this history.

Why were the early Christians crucified by Rome? Why were they fed to the lions in the Colosseum? Why were the Christians the major target of persecution by the caesars?

The answer is simple and self-evident: Because they recognized no king but Jesus.

That simple idea was so threatening to the caesars that Christians paid for it with their lives — by the hundreds of thousands. This was the second holocaust of the modern era — the first being the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And no one knows for sure just how many Christians were put to death. There are historical descriptions of Roman roadways being lighted by night by the burning corpses of crucified Christians — all because they would serve no king but Jesus.

There are also historical depictions of Christians saying, “No king but Jesus” as they were herded into the arena to be torn limb from limb by animals.

As the Ashcroft opponents in the U.S. Senate do their best to stall confirmation of their former colleague, ask yourself about their motivations.

What they are really suggesting is that no serious, committed Christian, who, by definition, puts Jesus first in his life, is fit to serve in high office in Washington.

That’s what is at stake in this confirmation process — nothing more, nothing less. This is a U.S. Senate and media referendum on anti-Christian bigotry. How far has it gone? Too far.

Let’s face it. If you take Ashcroft’s religious beliefs out of the equation, he sails through the confirmation process. There’s no serious debate. What is holding this up is a desperate search by his radical secular opponents for “more dirt.” They can’t stand the idea of a praying, reverent, pious man in the office formerly occupied by a lawless, shameless figure who served her earthly king — Clinton — faithfully and, when necessary, violently.

I’ll tell you what’s at stake in the Ashcroft nomination, besides truth, justice and the rule of law. What’s at stake is the notion that there is no religious test in America. That is one of the founding principles. That is what drove the first successful colonists to the New World. Ashcroft’s opponents are no better than the persecutors in Europe that drove pilgrims to seek out a land where freedom of conscience was respected. And, in many ways, whether they would admit it or not, they may be leading us back to the fears, hatreds and passions of the Roman Colosseum.

Editor’s note: If you’d like to take part in a massive senatorial fax campaign on behalf of John Ashcroft, Linda Chavez recommends clicking here. This site will allow you to fax every Democrat for $15.

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