OTR Interviews

Will Pres. Obama condemn pastor for using Easter sermon for 'cheap' attack on 'religious right'?

Will pastor be held accountable for using Easter sermon to scold the religious right in front of Pres. Obama?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 1, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Politics from the pulpit on Easter? A Washington pastor slamming the religious right, and President Obama sitting right there!


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When you go to an Obama church service, all you're going to get is Republicans being blasted!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Political attacks are not what anyone would expect to hear in an Easter sermon, usually. This is what -- the Christians talk about the good news. That holiday is sort of the heart of the good news.

LIMBAUGH: The president of the United States chose a preacher whose sermon was devoted to claiming that Republicans want to force blacks to ride at the back of the bus again...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they heard in the sermon was anything but happy for Easter.

LIMBAUGH: ... a preacher who in his sermon said Republicans want to make women go back to the kitchen.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is not a politician. This is not a senator or a member of Congress or the president. This was a sermon at a church here that's been visited by presidents of both parties for many, many years.

LIMBAUGH: Why did the president sit it and listen to this? Why did the president not stand up and excuse himself? This is not the kind of sermon a president of the United States ought to have to listen to, particularly given in his honor, in the honor of his presence at Easter Sunday services.


VAN SUSTEREN: So what exactly did the pastor say in that sermon? Well, the Reverend Luis Leon saying, "I hear all the time the expression `the good old days.' Well, the good old days, we forget they have been good for some but they weren't good for everybody. It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling people back, for blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet and for immigrants to be on their side of the border."

Ralph Reed is the founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He joins us. Nice to see you, Ralph.


VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, I'm curious what you think of the pastor's words.

REED: Well, you know, Greta, I'd love to tell you I'm surprised, but I'm really not. If you look at these so-called mainline -- I would call them sideline denominations -- they've really been shrinking in both size and proportion of the faithful in the United States. For the better part of four decades, they used to represent roughly 30 percent of America's adult population. It's now declined to 15 percent, and the reason why can be summed up in this episode.

You take the most sacred holiday on the Christian calendar, a day where you're really supposed to be conveying the greatest story ever told about the only man who ever lived on this earth without sin, the greatest man whoever lived, his life, his ministry, his death, his crucifixion and then his resurrection, and the fact that people can find forgiveness for their sins through faith in him.

And to take that, Greta, and turn it into a platform to score cheap political points and to draw such an ugly character caricature of one's fellow co-religionists -- I mean, these are his brothers and sisters in Christ, even if he doesn't share their political views, I think, is really sad. It's unfortunate. And I think it showed disrespect not only for 40 million Americans but for the occupant of the highest office in the land, who was in the congregation.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's important to note -- a lot of people may not be familiar with Washington, D.C. This is the church that is half a block from the White House. It's through Lafayette Park. And then there's the church. And presidents from both sides of the aisle have been attending this church for an awful long time.

I mean, this is -- this is -- I guess -- I don't know how to start, but this is a rather well-known church here in town. Do you know of this pastor? Have you ever heard of him before?

REED: I've heard of him. He prayed at George W. Bush's inaugural. I don't know him personally. But you know, Greta, you're exactly right. St. John's Episcopal church in Washington is really hallowed ground in the religious and cultural traditions of our country. This is the place where, traditionally, a private prayer service is held prior to the inaugural of every president.

And you know, I think the thing that's so offensive about it is it's often those of us who are conservative people of faith who are accused of politicizing the gospel, I would argue unfairly. And here again was an Easter sermon that was turned into, really, an attack on other Americans and on other Christians.

And the things that were said were so untrue, to suggest that conservative people of faith want to go back to Jim Crow and the days of segregation, when in fact, racial reconciliation has been one of their priorities, to argue that they want women to be second class citizens again, when it was really evangelicals, Greta, and specifically evangelical women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who fought to give women the right to vote. This was a very ugly and offensive thing to say about people of faith.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there's no indication that President Obama knew anything about his sermon before he went in there. I'm curious, do you think that the pastor took just a full opportunity, knowing that there would be a spotlight because it's the president of the United States there on Easter Sunday? Is that why, or do you think this is probably a rather common sermon for him?

REED: Well, I think that, and of course, I can't know Pastor Leon's heart or his mind or his intention, but it doesn't seem coincidental to me that this occurred the week of the arguing of the marriage cases before the Supreme Court because it's part of this drumbeat that we're hearing, Greta, throughout our country, and especially among the opinion elites.

If you support traditional marriage, you're a bigot. If you believe in reforming welfare, you're a racist. If you believe in the importance of the family as the most important Department of Health, Education and Welfare ever conceived, then you want to put women back in the kitchen.

And what it shows is the desperation, Greta, of those who can't win based on facts and the argument, and so they engage in smearing and cat- calling and drawing ugly caricatures. And you know, last week, when Congressman Don Young of Alaska used a term referring to Hispanics that was derogatory, immediately Speaker Boehner condemned it, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, condemned it.

But today, the White House refused to distance the president from these remarks. And I call on the president tonight, not just through a spokesman, but through a statement issued over his name, to make it clear that these things that were said in his presence, he not only doesn't agree with them, but finds them deeply offensive.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, obviously, that's one of the questions I'm going to ask the viewers in a second, but I'm just curious. We only have about 20 or 30 seconds left. So you think that the president, having been there and not knowing the sermon was coming, of course, but having sat through the sermon, because of his position, his job, should now make a comment about it?

REED: Well, he's being asked about it and he's going to continue to be asked about it. I mean, Ed Henry with Fox News asked Jay Carney about it. The president will be asked about it. I think it's entirely appropriate and would be well within his responsibilities to just say, Listen, I had nothing to do with this. I was there worshipping with my family. I don't agree with it, and I don't think that most Americans agree with it.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think the pastor should do, just let it go, or do you think he should say something? I guess that he probably -- he's not going to back down from his statement, but in terms of the appropriateness of making the statement on Easter Sunday in church?

REED: Well, you know, I think he should apologize for the inaccuracy of the remarks, the ahistorical and unhistorical charges that he's leveled against conservative evangelicals and other co-religionists. But at a minimum, I don't think he should use an Easter Sunday sermon as a platform to make cheap political attacks on other Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, thank you. Nice to see you, sir.

REED: You bet, Greta. Good to be with you.