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Tuesday, 09 June 2015 08:02

Why Are Christian Conservatives Remaining Silent About the Dennis Hastert Affair?

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aaaHastert(Photo: Neutrality)Late last week, the Associated Press' Mary Clare Jalonick reported that a Montana woman interviewed by the FBI claimed that "her brother was sexually abused while in high school by [former House Speaker] Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach who would become speaker of the House."

According to the AP story, Jolene Burdge of Billings, Montana, said "that the FBI interviewed her in mid-May about Hastert. She said her brother told her before he died in 1995 that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that the relationship lasted through all of his high school years."

Burdge, who in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" identified her brother as Stephen Reinboldt, "said Hastert had been a father figure to him at high school. But she also said she believed that relationship had caused irreparable harm. 'He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know,' she told the morning show," AP reported.

Too much time has passed for Hastert to be indicted on sexual abuse charges, but he has been indicted on charges "accus[ing] Hastert of evading bank regulations in withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars and lying to the FBI about the reason for the withdrawals. The document says Hastert agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million to someone identified only as 'Individual A' to 'compensate for and conceal (Hastert's) prior misconduct' against that person. But it does not go into any detail about the alleged misconduct."

The AP was unsuccessful in its attempts to contact other relatives of Stephen Reinboldt.

Hastert has not been seen in public since the indictment and since he resigned – or was fired -- from the Washington D.C. lobbying firm where he worked.

Christian Right remains silent on Hastert

As of this writing (Friday, June 5) the Christian Right's silence on the Dennis Hastert Affair is deafening. Why haven't any of the major so-called traditional values organizations -- who considered Hastert a defender of the faith, especially when it came to fighting against LGBTQ rights -- stepped forward and issued a statement about his alleged behavior toward teenage boys during his days in Illinois as a teacher? And, why haven't these same organizations talked about the decades long cover-up which apparently included Hastert paying out huge amounts of hush money to his sexual victims?

Last week I sent email notes to the American Family Association, Andrea Lafferty of the Tradition Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and The Heritage Foundation, asking why they haven't commented about revelations that Hastert was paying hush money to allegedly cover up what might have been a series of sexual assaults on teenagers at the school where he was wrestling coach.

Here's the note I sent to Rob Bluey, Vice President of Publishing at The Heritage Foundation:

I enjoy receiving The Daily Signal every morning and go over its content pretty carefully; don't read everything, but really, who can? Here is my question. When are you going to run the complete story of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's sexual transgressions. We enjoy reading about how Democratic politicians make their mess in the world, but I think a smidgeon of fairness might have you assign one of your intrepid reporters to the Hastert case. Your thoughts.

 This was his response:

Thanks for your note, Bill. Not sure there's a policy angle -- even if he were a Democrat I don't think we'd cover.

Perhaps conservative columnists were writing about The Hastert Affair and I hadn't connected with their columns? I scooted over to the Patriot Post, which lists a bunch of conservative wags on its website. I surveyed recent columns by Arnold Ahlert, Michael Barone, Joe Bastardi, Ken Blackwell, L. Brent Bozell & Tim Graham, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez, Ann Coulter (I admit to enjoying her recent column headlined "Knowing What We Know Now, Would You Say Jeb Bush Is Retarded?"), Jim DeMint, Larry Elder, Edwin J. Fuellner, Jonah Goldberg, David Limbaugh. Lots of columns, lots of blather, not one headline related to the Hastert Affair. Please forgive me as I stopped at the L's.

The silence is not surprising to Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "If Denny Hastert were a Democrat, you can rest assured that the tawdry details of this sex-and-money scandal would be splashed all over every Religious Right website for at least a month," Boston told me in an email exchange. "It would be dissected endlessly on right-wing talk radio, and the Fox News Channel would host a 24/7 coverage marathon."

Hypocrisy prevails says Boston: "None of this is happening because the Religious Right and their pals in the far-right media are a bunch of hypocrites. But that's nothing new. These are the same groups, after all, that ripped President Bill Clinton to shreds for his dalliance with an intern while turning a blind eye to the antics of serial adulterer Newt Gingrich. They also never said a peep about David Vitter's predilection for prostitutes. Wags on social media have an acronym for this: IOKWRDI. It stands for 'It's OK When Republicans Do It,' and for Religious Right groups, it is their standard operating procedure."

Frederick Clarkson, the Senior Fellow for Religious Liberty at the social justice think tank, Political Research Associates, told me in an email that "This is a tough story for conservatives and Republicans who present themselves are the arbiters and standard bearers of morality and family values. The facts of the Hastert case potentially cast a lot of light into some very dark places in the recent history of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. And the Hastert story certainly radically undermines the narrative."

Clarkson pointed out that "It has been noted in the press, that Hastert rose to be Speaker of the House after Newt Gingrich was forced to resign because of his serial adultery, as was his named successor Bob Livingston (R-LA). Hastert was held out as the redemption of the Republican Party and the epitome of moral rectitude. Until now. Hastert's name is attached to a number of respectable entities. For example, Washington Post columnist and White House speechwriter Michael Gerson is the Hastert Fellow at the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy at Wheaton College in Illinois. The evangelical college, Hastert's alma mater, did not wait to erase the Hastert stain from its own reputation -- changed the name to the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy. Hastert has resigned from the center's board of advisers.

"All that is bad enough," Clarkson added. "But it comes at a time when the Duggar family scandal is playing out in the national press, and Bishop Robert Finn was forced by Pope Francis to resign as the leader of the Diocese of Kansas City/St Joseph in Missouri. Finn was convicted on charges related to failing to report child sex abuse by one of his priests, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his crimes. Finn is a member of the secretive, and political influential order, Opus Dei.

"The conservative movement's inability to even speak to these matters speaks volumes about the movement's actual values, which have to do with amorality related to gaining and keeping power. There ought to be a lot of soul searching going on in the conservative movement right now. But the silence about the Hastert affair, suggests that if there is any soul searching going on, it is a big a secret as Hastert's sex abuse of children in his care.

"That conservative groups are unwilling to speak to the sex abuses of former Speaker Hastert, and for that matter, still allow Newt Gingrich to speak as a voice of moral authority at conservative Christian events, illuminates the amorality of this corner of public life."

If these revelations had surfaced soon after they occurred, Hastert would have been arrested, tried, and if convicted, served time in prison. After his release, he would have been put on the sex offender list, thus sparing the country years of hypocrisy.