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Christopher Hitchens and Ralph Reed Square Off over Late Leader's Influence; the Christian Right

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 16, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY FALWELL: Throwing God off successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.

I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make an alternative lifestyle — the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: That was Reverend Jerry Falwell on "Hannity & Colmes" back in 2004. The controversial televangelist was a polarizing figure emboldening conservative Christians while alienating many liberals. But there's no question about the impacting legacy Falwell leaves behind.

Joining us now is Republican strategist Ralph Reed and author of "God is Not Great", columnist Christopher Hitchens, who made news last night with his harsh critique of the reverend. Christopher, let me start with you here and talk about the things you've said which — obviously, we know where you stand on religion. We know where you stand on Reverend Falwell. By being so angry about what his legacy was and is, are you not hurting his family and others who may have no dog in that hunt, but who would just like a few moments to celebrate his life and have some peace?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, "GOD IS NOT GREAT": Well, I don't care whether his family's feelings are hurt or not. But if they are, they can take comfort from the extraordinary piety and stupidity, and generally speaking, uniformity of the coverage of the man's death.

It is, after all, said — was said by the supposed Jesus of Nazareth to his followers that they must expect to be mocked for their beliefs, because their beliefs will appear to many people to be ridiculous, if not worse than that. And that they are to take it for granted that they will be ridiculed.

That's true of, I think, of the most devout and serious and thoughtful Christian. But for a vulgar fraud and crook like the Reverend Falwell, it's an obligation to say what one thinks about him, or be left off the air and have people like yourselves broadcasting only piety.

COLMES: I'm not broadcasting only piety. I've got my radio show. And now we're having you on here to talk about your view. What else is being said?

HITCHENS: You're having me on and then arguing that maybe it's bad taste to have me on. I don't think...

COLMES: I thought it was a legitimate question, because I think people are worried...

HITCHENS: I've answered the question. What's the next one?

COLMES: Now we will move on to Ralph Reed now that you have answered that question. Ralph, does Christopher Hitchens have a point? It is a free speech issue. He was a polarizing figure, Reverend Falwell was. And there are many people, maybe not all of them feeling as strongly as Christopher Hitchens, but who feel that Reverend Falwell was, indeed, a polarizing figure. He said things that offended many Americans.

RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well you know, look, any time Alan, that you are an agent of change, the way Dr. Falwell was, who had the kind of impact that he had on American religion, on our culture, and on our politics — he was one of the most important historical figures of the last 50 years in each of those areas, ending the self-imposed exile of evangelicals from civic and cultural engagement.

And I think transforming them into one of the most important and vibrant and energetic constituencies in the entire electorate. No one does that, liberal or conservative, Republican, Democrat, of any faith, and not stir controversy. It's just my belief, as an American, not as a conservative, not as somebody of any particular denominational background or faith, but just as an American in terms of elevating our civility of our discourse, that when somebody dies that we ought to show a measure of respect and appreciation for their family and for their loved ones and for those who are grieving right now. And our thoughts and prayers ought to be with them, regardless of whether we agreed with Dr. Falwell or not.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Christopher Hitchens...

HITCHENS: Oh, come on, play the world's smallest violin. Listen, he established a business, a racket, in my opinion. He was a religious businessman in the same way as Mr. Ralph Reed is a religious entrepreneur. He's left the business to his children. It's a hereditary job. Let that console them. You can't have me on and say that I have to say I'm terribly sorry he's dead.

HANNITY: Hey, Christopher.

HITCHENS: One reason you can't ask me to do that is because I am not. I think we have been rid of an extremely dangerous demagogue who lived by hatred of others, and prejudice, and who committed treason by saying that the United States deserved the attack upon it and its civil society of September of 2001 by other religious nut cases like himself.

HANNITY: He profoundly and repeatedly apologized. And I'm sure you're perfect.

HITCHENS: No, he did not enough.

HANNITY: I'm sure you're perfect in your life and that you've never made any mistakes.

HITCHENS: I've never committed treason like that. I don't believe in the sincerity of his apology.

HANNITY: Let's look at the thoughtlessness and the mean-spiritedness of your very remarks that you made about Reverend Falwell.

HITCHENS: By all means.

HANNITY: You think it's a pity that there isn't a hell for him to go to, you said.

HITCHENS: Yes, I do.

HANNITY: On his death, you write, "The discovery of the carcass of Reverend Falwell on the floor of his obscure office is, you know, almost zero significance except for perhaps two categories of people," et cetera. You also say the evil he did will live after him.

HITCHENS: Yes.

HANNITY: I knew Reverend Falwell, Christopher. I know the good work that this man has done.

HITCHENS: Tell me about it.

HANNITY: Well...

HITCHENS: Takes a lot to make me cry.

HANNITY: I know you think you're the smartest guy in the room, but you sound like a jackass when you attack his family like this. But I know...

HITCHENS: I didn't attack his family. Excuse me.

HANNITY: ... what he did for unwed mothers. I know what he did for alcoholics. I know what he did for drug addicts.

HITCHENS: Excuse me, sir.

HANNITY: Yes.

HITCHENS: I did not attack his family. And no fair-minded viewer of yours will say it. I'm not going to be conscripted to say that it's my job, when you invite me on to discuss this man, first to say how sorry I am for him and his family. That isn't what I feel. You no doubt, as a Christian or whatever you are, require hypocrisy of people. And so you're asking me...

HANNITY: I'm not asking — no, but I am asking for human decency. And if you don't think it has an impact on his family to use even the phrases tonight that he's vulgar, a fraud and a crook. And then to say that...

HITCHENS: Am I supposed to conceal my — you asked me on.

HANNITY: I think you are incredibly mean, incredibly selfish and thoughtless.

HITCHENS: You invited me, sir, to give my opinion of the departed. I give it to you, and you say, well, might that not upset his family. I said it while he was alive. That might have upset his family, too.

HANNITY: Will you give the opinion about that? You give the opinion about him. And I'm giving you the opinion about you and the thoughtlessness of your remarks here. And I'm really calling for any human decency that you may have in your pseudo-intellectually — mind of yours.

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