One week after apologizing for comparing Democratic leaders to the Nazis, a prominent Southern Baptist leader has reneged on his promise to stop using such comparisons.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has now repeatedly changed his position concerning the appropriateness of his own inflammatory rhetoric that has been condemned by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.
Despite apologizing in a letter dated Oct. 14 to Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Land backed away from that apology in a Baptist Press article on Oct. 21.
The article’s author, a vice president at the ERLC, wrote that Land “still believes there are connections to be made between some underlying philosophies held by the Germans and others in the first half of the 20th century, and certain elements under discussion in the health care reform debate today.”
Land argued that the philosophies of some of those pushing health-care reform “bear a lethal similarity in their attitudes toward the elderly and the terminally ill and could ultimately lead to the kinds of things the Nazis did.” Land also attacked those who were attempting “to remove the Third Reich as a subject of discussion when it comes to the healthcare debate.”
He denied, however, that accusing health-care reform proponents of pushing ideas similar to the “very lethal and deadly philosophies loose in 20th century Germany prior to the Nazis’ ascendancy to power” and arguing that such ideas “could be carried to such an extreme at some time in the future” was the same as comparing Democrats to the Nazis.
In an email to EthicsDaily.com, ADL’s Foxman expressed that, despite the Baptist Press comments, he expects Land to uphold his promise to avoid invoking the Nazis in the health-care debate.
“Until I hear personally from Rev. Land that he has rescinded the letter he sent and gone back on his word, I have to assume that he stands by his words and that he will refrain from using inappropriate Nazi analogies in the future,” Foxman wrote.
During a Sept. 26 gathering of the Christian Coalition of Florida, Land criticized Democratic health-care reform efforts by claiming that the Democrats were attempting to do “precisely what the Nazis did.” He also compared Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who is a health-care adviser to President Obama, to German SS officer Josef Mengele. Mengele was a doctor who was called the “Angel of Death” because of his human experimentations during the Holocaust.
In an email to EthicsDaily.com on Oct. 6, Land refused to apologize for his remarks. Land reiterated his likening of Emanuel to the Nazis, adding that “the analogy is apt and I stand by it.”
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On Oct. 9, Foxman wrote Land to express ADL’s “concern” about Land’s use of “inappropriate, insensitive and unjustified” Nazi comparisons and to urge Land to “refrain from such [comparisons] in the future.” Foxman, who is a Holocaust survivor, argued that “[s]uch comparisons diminish the history and the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others who died at the hands of the Nazis and insults those who fought bravely against Hitler.”
On Oct. 14, Land wrote a letter in response to Foxman to “apologize” and express his “regret” for making the comparisons to the Nazis. He added that he never intended “to equate the Obama administration’s healthcare reform proposals with anything related to the Holocaust.”
“I will certainly refrain from making such references in the future,” Land added. “Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime, I will certainly seek to exercise far more care in my use of language in future discussions of the issues at stake in the healthcare debate.”
Yet exactly one week after writing this promise to Foxman, Baptist Press ran the piece with Land’s most recent thoughts on his Nazi comparison. SBC officials have remained silent about Land’s remarks, and convention leaders did not respond to a request for comment.
In the Oct. 21 article, Land also attacked EthicsDaily.com columnist Richard Pierard, who is a professor of history emeritus at Indiana State University. Pierard had written a column critical of Land’s use of the Nazi comparison.
“To evoke images of Hitler or the Holocaust to thwart health-care reform is a brutal insult both to the victims and survivors of that Holocaust,” Pierard wrote. “We must proclaim as widely as possible that the term ‘Nazism’ and images of the swastika have nothing to do with the issues at hand. Any such comparisons are false and are intended only to frighten and confuse people.”
Rather than responding to the substance of Pierard’s criticism, Land instead accused Pierard of attempting to thwart free speech. Land argued that Pierard’s criticism seemed like “an attempt at censorship” and derided Pierard for trying to act like a “speech czar.”
Although Land bristles at being accused of comparing Democrats to the Nazis – even while continuing to employ and defend such comparisons – his remarks have been widely condemned and pointed to as a prime example of incivility in the health-care reform debate.
In addition to the ADL and EthicsDaily.com, Land has been criticized for making Nazis comparisons by the New York Magazine, Las Vegas Sun, Jewish Chronicle and other media outlets. The Las Vegas Sun declared Land’s remarks to be “despicable” and “a repugnant and dishonest comparison.”
An open letter earlier this week from the Interfaith Alliance that was signed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders highlighted Land’s remarks as a primary example of “the most vile example of the disturbing language that has insinuated itself into our national dialogue.”
The letter also urged religious and political leaders to avoid Nazi comparisons in the health-care reform debate since those who use “such language harm rather than help both the integrity of the democratic process and the credibility of religious commentary.”
Last year, Land used an obscene Yiddish slur during a chapel address at Criswell College to mock U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish. After receiving criticism for the remark, Land claimed “ignorance” of the word’s meaning and apologized.
Land’s tactic of frequently resorting to name-calling has also been noted in other cases, including examples of him comparing Hillary Clinton to a witch, mocking Al Gore with animal noises and questioning the faith of Jimmy Carter.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.