Elizabeth Dole’s Atheism Slander Against Kay Hagan October 29, 2008

Elizabeth Dole’s Atheism Slander Against Kay Hagan

I stay away from the blog for a day and all hell breaks loose on the Elizabeth Dole/Kay Hagan front. Thanks to everyone who sent me emails about it.

To recap:

Dole has been accusing her North Carolina Senate seat opponent (Democrat Kay Hagan) of palling around with atheists. Hagan really did nothing of the sort. She attended a fundraiser thrown by people who happened to be atheists but the fundraiser had nothing to do with that. Dole’s just desperate and she thinks that by accusing Hagan of being an atheist (which she is not), she will somehow overtake her on Election Day.

As Alex Castellanos said today on CNN, “When you’re making ads that say ‘there is no God,’ it usually means your campaign doesn’t have much of a prayer.”

Today’s update:

Dole is now running this inflammatory ad in North Carolina:

It shows edited clips from American Atheists spokespeople (former President) Ellen Johnson and (current Communications Director) David Silverman. They speak about their beliefs and the video implies that Hagan shares those beliefs.

She does not. In fact, those comments had nothing to do with Hagan or her campaign. They’re completely unrelated remarks.

At the very end, a voice declare “There is no God!” A casual listener may think that voice is Hagan’s.

It is not.

The ad also shows Hagan attending a fundraiser thrown by atheists. The image you see, though, is not that fundraiser. It’s a doctored image. (Do you really think someone would videotape that event? And that it would become available to the Dole campaign? Even if it was real, is that the most shocking footage they could find?)

It’s all fake, just designed to scare voters.

(And did anyone else know that “godless money” exists?! I thought they phased all that out in the 1950s…)

As Seth Colter Walls writes about Hagan at The Huffington Post:

In fact, the Democratic candidate is a Sunday School teacher and an elder at her Presbyterian church.

The ad also asks “What Did Hagan Promise in Return?” to atheists who donated money to her campaign.

Lots of people on this site have given money to Hagan (motivated by Dole’s own negative campaigning). To my knowledge, no one from the Hagan campaign has contacted any of us to ask what we want.

If they did, the response would be simple: We want civility, responsibility, and honor restored to the government — things that Elizabeth Dole cannot give us.

Guess what?

Hagan has African-American supporters, too. Some of them gave her money. Some may have even held fundraisers for her.

That doesn’t make her black.

(It’s still not too late to donate to Hagan’s campaign, by the way.)

In response to the false advertising, Hagan has done a number of things:

1) She is headed to court to get a cease-and-desist order on the ad.

2) Her campaign has put out two more ads in her favor.

3) She held a press conference with the following remarks:

Thank you for coming today. I know this was called at short notice, and I appreciate you being here for this.

Let’s get right to it. Elizabeth Dole should absolutely be ashamed of herself.

I don’t know what things were like when she grew up in North Carolina, but the North Carolina I was raised in would NEVER condone this kind of personal slander.

I can’t begin to tell you how upset I am that she has attacked my Christian faith.

She’s been in Washington for too long, gotten too close to George Bush and the special interests and this is what she’s become.

I am appalled at these tactics. This is politics of the worst kind, and it’s been rejected by North Carolinians at every level. This is so unbecoming of the woman she claims to be.

I have taught Sunday school. I’m an elder in this church, where the Hagan family has attended for over 100 years. I go on mission trips. I was raised going to Sunday school and church every week. And I raised my children that way.

On Christmas Eve, we attend the 11:00 evening service, then early on Christmas mornings, my children and husband and I go to the Bell House and cook breakfast for the residents there. My family, my community and my church are the anchors of my life.

If Senator Dole wants to pass judgment on my faith, that’s her right — but it’s not what my faith teaches.

This is a fabricated, pathetic ad.

I am outraged… That is not my voice at the end of the ad, and I do not share their beliefs.

This was an event with nearly 40 hosts, including an ambassador and a sitting U.S. Senator (John Kerry).

We have already contacted our lawyers and are proceeding with a cease and desist order sent to Elizabeth Dole.

This kind of politics should not be tolerated.

The politics of George Bush won’t create one new job, lower the cost of health care, or do one lick of good for North Carolina.

At their core, Americans aren’t Democrat or Republican, red or blue – they’re Americans, plain and simple. We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.

Shame on anyone who says differently.

Congress just had to bailout Wall Street, workers’ retirement savings are out the window, people are genuinely concerned about keeping their job in this tough economic climate, and Elizabeth Dole is trying to talk about ANYTHING but the issues.

This attack speaks volumes about her personally and politically, but more importantly, it speaks to the lack of leadership she’s shown on behalf of North Carolinians. At this critical point in American history, why isn’t Elizabeth Dole talking about what she’s done for North Carolinians and what she’s planning to do if re-elected?

This is exactly why people in North Carolina are supporting me – I have real, concrete proposals to help fix what’s broken in Washington and advocate on behalf of working families. I’ve been talking about the issues and ensuring North Carolinians know what real leadership looks like.

Elizabeth Dole is just relying on the same old, tired rhetoric that divides people instead of bringing them together, and that’s the last thing people in North Carolina want right now.

Well, not all atheists “value the role of faith in American life.” Shame on Kay Hagan for saying that.

But even if you don’t follow politics, why should you care about this story?

Elizabeth Dole is attacking her opponent by saying she associates with people like you. To Dole, you are unworthy of having a voice in the government — or even supporting someone who may have that voice on your behalf.

It’s despicable and Dole needs to be stopped. She needs to be voted out of any position of power.

Back to Hagan. A news report said Hagan was “calling the spot a slanderous and pathetic attempt to maintain political power.” She later called the ad despicable.

Let’s be clear about this: It’s not slanderous or pathetic to be an atheist.

Hagan’s just saying it’s slanderous and pathetic to lie about your opponent in order to win an election.

I’m not happy with her choice of words. She could have used the opportunity to say that, while atheists make up a vital segment of this country, she is a woman of faith. In the heat of the moment and the political stress she must be under, though, I can understand why she said what she did.

Right now, most atheist organizations have not commented on the situation.

It may be better to wait until after the elections to raise a fuss about everything that has taken place. Both candidates (but especially Dole) could stand to learn a lesson about what atheists have to offer.

On another note, all these ads mention that one of the fundraising hosts was an advisor to the Godless Americans Political Action Committee. Does GAMPAC even do anything anymore? Not to my knowledge. If you look at their website, the most recent picture on their home page is from over a year ago. To say that any fundraiser was held on behalf of that organization is a lie. That organization is almost entirely non-existent.

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  • Bitches. Not even half an attempt to defend atheists. I’ll have to call them in the morning and let them know why I’m not giving them a donation this time (as opposed to after all the other Dole attacks.)

  • Lynn

    Hagan’s response is depressing. I thought that NC would see some kind of progress. Guess not. I’ve sent an email. I will call as well.

  • llewelly

    ‘bitches’, benjdm? Let’s not sink to their level.

  • While it’s disappointing that Hagan didn’t speak up to defent atheists, I’m not surprised. She seems to be distancing herself from atheists to minimize political damage that these attacks might cause, instead focusing on her own faith and religious background. I don’t know how religious North Carolina is, but if it’s fundamentalist to the point where playing the tolerance game with atheists would cost Hagan votes, rather than earning her support for being the bigger person, then she probably has no compelling (political) reason to defent atheists right now.

  • ‘bitches’, benjdm? Let’s not sink to their level.

    You’re right. That should be a gender-neutral derogatory term…hmmm….jerks?

    Sorry about that, everyone.

  • I actually don’t think that Hagan did anything wrong here. The whole affair looks almost like a precise parallel to right-wingers trying to label Obama as a Muslim. It is slanderous because it is both not true, and because the label is implied to be an inherent evil by the person bringing the issue up. And it is pathetic for those same reasons. I would like to hear more about Hagan’s sentiments on the issue, but she is currently in a no-win dialog where any attempt to keep us godless heathens happy and treated like more than the social lepers the right makes us out to be will make the paranoid and uninformed go nuts when the spin begins. The world of politics, I assume…

  • We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.

    That labels atheist activists as excluded from ‘we’ pretty solidly. It’s a slight improvement over the National Motto, but not much. It is very wrong.

  • What Dole’s ad put out was defamation. Hagan is known as a Christian, a leader in her church; for someone like that to be an atheist manifests a lack of intellectual integrity.

    It’s like being a teetotaler and a leading wine critic: neither is dishonorable but saying you are one when you really are the other IS dishonorable. And accusing somebody falsely of duplicity is defamation, not merely “false light.”

    Ditto with Obama being an alleged Muslim: it’s the claim of duplicity that makes it defamation, not mere false light.

  • John Morales

    Hagan’s just saying it’s slanderous and pathetic to lie about your opponent in order to win an election.

    Perhaps, but her lawyers aren’t.
    See this comment at Pharyngula.

  • Zack

    Dole made #2 on Olberman’s Worst Persons list.

  • Hagan is just the lesser of two evils.
    Dissing atheists (by nominating Palin) hopefully will cause a landslide victory by Obama.
    Politicians don’t realize that today it is courting the secular vote that wins elections, not the religious votes.
    They might get it after Tuesday.

  • PrimeNumbers

    The problem is, that Dole making it our that Hagan is an atheist is a compliment, rather than being derogatory. If Hagan sues for slander, it’s like she’s saying “yes, atheist is a bad term to apply to someone”.

    Yes indeed, it looks like Hagan is the lesser of two evils. I would have been so happy if Hagan, in her response add, had stood up and said “Do you know what, I’ve been accused of being an Atheist. Atheists are not bad people. Some of my best friends are Atheists. They’re not sub-humans. They’re not out to take over the world. They’re our neighbours, our friends, our relatives. They make up a larger percentage of our population than the Jews.” or words to that effect.

    I’m sure Hagan is a nice lady, and doesn’t think bad of those who do not believe. I know she’s a church-goer and has been indoctrinated into her beliefs, but she’s probably a good person in spite of that.

  • noodleguy

    That’s disgusting on SO many levels. The fact that Dole is simply lying about her opponent’s record and faxing advertisements is disgusting enough. But the fact that being atheist is considered slander at all is disgusting too. However, I don’t think politically Hagan could have made the statements people want her to make (i.e. Hey, what the heck is wrong with atheism) If Hagan did make those statements people (Dole) would just say “well she’s a sympathizer, and just wants to push the atheist ‘agenda’ anyway” and the fundies would all flock to Dole. Fundies have enormous political power in our country because they are more motivated than atheists. Think about it, they’re fighting for the word of God. Not to mention that they are much more organized and have a lot of money flowing in from all sides.

    Hagan may be a lesser of two evils, but I really don’t blame her for what she’s said.

    How did Dole only make #2 on Olbermann’s list? Of course, I suppose that’s because #1 is pretty much always reserved for someone working for Fox News…wish I’d been watching that night though.

  • TXatheist

    Happening here in Texas too. Right now a candidate, Keel, is blasting her opponent, Bolton, for not supporting the idea to add under god to the texas pledge(yes, tx has a pledge). Maybe Bolton was smart enough to realize it will be reversed and cost taxpayer money as soon as the US pledge is corrected.

  • I think it’s amusing that most Americans are backwards enough that these issues of personal faith matter. Makes me think the U.S. is far, far closer to places like Iran than to Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and so on.

  • Me myself

    The sad (annoying? depressing?) thing is that being associated with atheists *is* pretty much political suicide.

    I can’t say that I agree with or condone Hagan’s “eww atheism I ain’t one of those folk” tactic, but I can’t say that I’m surprised, or blame her for taking that route.

    Coming out in support of atheism (or in any way actively condoning it) would pretty much lose her the campaign, regardless of Dole’s horrible campaign.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Seriously, she’s trying to win an election in North Carolina. This is not the time for her to be making a big public stand for atheist’s rights. I wouldn’t expect her to. I want Dole out of the Senate and Hagan in. I hope that someday the word atheist won’t so easily be applied as political slander, but I think that the presidential campaign has shown that atheists are not the only religious minority in the United States that can be used as a smear.

  • timplausible

    Hagan’s comments are very disappointing. She could have pointed out that Dole was lying without completely buying into the idea that it would be awful if she were. Obama managed to say “I’m Christian” without calling it a slanderous attack to accuse him of being Muslim (though he did not make the point himself that the mere attack was bigoted).

    Worse, the mainstream media is also buying into the notion that what is horrible about this is not the lie, but the accusation of being an atheist, and being associated with atheists. No one is pointing out that this is bigotry. If Dole had accused Hagan of being a Jew, the tone of this news story would be ENTIRELY different. It makes me angry.

  • Hemant, you’ve been tagged. 🙂

    Also, I’m really disappointed in Hagan’s reaction to Dole’s attack. This only serves to perpetuate the whole “evil atheists, they’re not True Amurcans!” stereotype.

  • ec

    This _is_ a parallel to statements made about Obama that he is a Muslim. But will Colin Powell appear on Meet the Press and say, “So what if Kay Hagan was an atheist?” and tell a story about a mother weeping over a gravestone at Arlington that has no symbol of faith on it?

  • Another $25 to Hagan’s campaign, I think I have given $100 to Hagan so far. And I am from Illinois.

    Hagan’s reply did not really bother, but giving atheists a bit more attention and importance in that reply would have been nice. Then again, for the very reason Dole is pushing this “godless” connection, Hagan is turning away from it. It is simply not popular to be an atheist in this country. And I do not blame Hagan for not wanting to drive that association home, at least she does not diss us 😀

  • Wow. This stuff is incredibly disturbing. I was so disturbed by the Dole campaign that I wrote an open letter to the GOP about it at http://atheistamputee.blogspot.com

    Here is the direct link: http://atheistamputee.blogspot.com/2008/10/open-letter-to-gop.html

    Maybe you guys can help me by adding questions… Input from a wide demographic would be helpful!

  • Siamang

    Whoo what an ugly turn of events.

    And really, everyone should replace the word “atheist” with “Jew” to see how incredibly ugly and hateful this has been.

  • Siamang
  • justin jm

    Look on the bright side, Ms. Hagan’s remarks aren’t nearly as bad as when Mitt Romney gave that speech in the primaries asserting that, as Americans, “we” believe in God. What “we?”

    From Me myself (different commenter):

    Coming out in support of atheism (or in any way actively condoning it) would pretty much lose her the campaign, regardless of Dole’s horrible campaign.

    But if candidates don’t acknowledge that we can be patriotic, our political situation won’t improve no matter how many election cycles pass. We’ll just be in a cycle of passively condoning prejudicial rhetoric for political expediency in the hopes that the next election will be different or that things will change when candidates get into office.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Siamang said:


    Campbell Brown tells it.

    What annoys me is that not a week ago, Brown talked about the false accusations against Obama’s faith, saying “Why would it matter if Obama was a Muslim or an Arab?” But in this case, she focuses on the fact that Hagan is a Christian, and says nothing about the blatant bigotry in this ad. Why the double standard here?

  • Kate
  • benjdm

    It would have cost Hagan nothing to either refrain from attacking atheists or even defending them. Hagan was losing until Dole put out her first press release attacking Hagan on the issue. There are more atheists and agnostics than people realize.

    Stop all the defeatism, already.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Atheists are the new Jews.

  • Siamang
  • Zack

    link to the olbermann episode of countdown in which Dole made #2 on Worst Persons which starts at 33:45. She was beat by Dennis Prager, who disparages “equality” as un-American. It is only a French value.

    He won fair and square in my opinion.

  • Richard Wade

    But if candidates don’t acknowledge that we can be patriotic, our political situation won’t improve no matter how many election cycles pass.

    It’s not up to brave candidates or brave elected officials to improve our image; it’s up to us. Respect is not a gift from on high, respect is earned through hard work courageous struggle.

    Politicians are locked in a balancing act of principles and pragmatics. They may privately feel that an unpopular minority deserves a better break, but they have to be elected by the majority. So their support of the minorities will be weak and conditional at best. Don’t look to politicians to be our champions.

    If we want a better reputation in society then WE must achieve it, not hope for a rare good word from an elected official. WE must be visible and audible in our virtues. WE must be seen everywhere being charitable, being compassionate, being patriotic, being conscientious, being moral, being courteous, being all the things that bigots say we are not.

    No one is going to give us respect as a gift. We must win it by the constant, ubiquitous and undeniable reality of how we behave.

  • We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.

    If it wasn’t for that, I’d chalk the whole thing up to political expediency. But Hagan didn’t have to say that. She didn’t have to imply that valuing the role of faith in American life was an essential part of loving your country.

    Still, Richard makes a good point when he says that we can’t ask politicians to suddenly start defending us. We have to make our own voices heard, on blogs, in letters to the editor and to candidates, and most of all in everyday life.

  • Mike

    I think the attack by Dole is disgusting, and the failure to say anything positive about atheists by Hagan is sad. But don’t worry. God will smite them.

  • Richard Wade

    I have been getting email appeals for contributions from Kay Hagan’s campaign ever since I donated to her campaign. Here is what I just emailed back:

    I was pleased and impressed when I learned that Kay, despite her strong devotion to her faith, was willing to attend the fundraiser that included the Godless Americans PAC, and so I contributed $200 even though I don’t live in North Carolina. Just finding any candidate or official who is even willing to listen to the concerns of secular Americans is extremely rare, and needs to be encouraged.

    Senator Dole’s vile response is not surprising to me, trying to smear Kay with “godlessness” by association, and Kay’s response is strong, clear and well considered. She should not tolerate such slander.

    HOWEVER, I am disappointed by Kay’s failure to make even a single statement about how using “godless” as an unquestioned dirty word is also inappropriate, that she has not made an assertive statement that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs deserve fair representation and should not be scapegoated. When Kay attended the fundraiser in Boston, I thought and hoped that she was taking a stand to represent all her constituency, including those upstanding Americans who do not believe in any gods.

    I understand that in her response to Dole she wants to focus on defending herself against the attack, but by not denouncing the very tactic of using religious bigotry itself, Kay has tacitly agreed that “godless” people are the evil and dangerous degenerates that Dole implies they are. If Kay had also taken that single, simple and fair stance against bigotry, I would be donating more money to her campaign. She did not, so I am not.

    I know that she is busy, but please pass these thoughts on to Kay. I wish Kay good luck in the election and I hope she wins.

    Sincerely, Richard Wade

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