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'A Biblical view of justice:' Whitaker once said judges shouldn't have a secular world view

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, 9:21 p.m.
In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that he was naming Whitaker, as acting attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Nov. 7, 2018, as the country’s chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that he was naming Whitaker, as acting attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Nov. 7, 2018, as the country’s chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

In a 2014 debate when he was running for the U.S. Senate, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said judges should have a Christian world view, and that a judge with a “secular world view” would be problematic, according to a newspaper report from that time.

Efforts to reach Whitaker, who was appointed Wednesday by President Trump to acting attorney general, were not immediately successful. The May 2014 report in The Des Moines Register didn’t include a full transcript. It was a critical column by Register opinion writer Rekha Basu.

In her column, Basu described an April 25, 2014 debate among candidates vying for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa. The debate was hosted by the conservative Christian group The Family Leader, and was moderated by Erick Erickson, then a popular conservative blogger who went on to found the news site The Resurgent.

“If they have a secular world view, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge,” Whitaker said at the Family Leader debate.

According to the column, Erickson asked the candidates “what criteria” they would use “to block President Obama’s judicial nominees.” One candidate, Sam Clovis, said he would vote for judges who could link ‘natural law’ to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Basu wrote.

Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, on Wednesday praised Whitaker and said he “is a believer in Christ, and the man of highest integrity and a man who really loves his family and his country.”

Asked what, specifically, is meant by a New Testament point of view for a judge, Vander Plaats said “my guess is he’s saying someone who wants justice, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“I think he’s looking at: What is the world view, the framework? If this is just about, law unto man, well, we can be pretty selfish pretty quickly. That’s why even framers of the Constitution talked about laws of nature and law of nature’s God,” he said in an interview with The Post. “To me those are the characteristics you’d want to see in someone who is in a position as acting attorney general. And what I mean by that is he won’t be swayed to and fro because of who has the best emotional argument. He has a backbone and will lead with the utmost integrity - that’s what we want to have.”

Asked what was meant during the debate by a Levitical or a New Testament judge, Vander Plaats said those questions were ones Whitaker would have to answer.

Asked if Whitaker’s comments implied that the acting attorney general opposed judges that are not Christian, or don’t have his own religious beliefs, Vander Plaats said “I’m not so sure I’d ascribe that to Matt. I think what he’s looking at is someone who understood the original intent of the Constitution.” The Framers, he said, and the Declaration of Independence, make assumptions about “nature’s God.”

“When there is a higher purpose, that we as a people can unite around, then we can have the most fair implementation of justice and law in our society,” Vander Plaats said.

The Family Leader in 2010 led the campaign to oust three state Supreme Court judges in Iowa who the year before had been among those who ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-gender couples violated the state’s constitution.

Whitaker and other candidates were asked at the 2014 debate about the topic of balancing non-discrimination with the protection of religious views.

Vander Plaats said Iowans are still very animated by people “being forced to celebrate something that goes against their religious beliefs … this cuts across both parties, people who understand religious liberty.”

Asked if opposing judges who are secular or don’t hold a Whitaker-like view of “Biblical justice” could also be a violation of religious liberty, Vander Plaats said “it’s best for Matt to speak for himself.” But broadly, he asked: “I think what you’re seeing with the Trump Administration and with others is that religious liberty is something we have to hold onto and protect because we don’t want to be wards basically of the state.”

Rasu’s column noted that the four debaters in 2014 were asked their favorite Bible verse, and all answered it, the column said, although it did not include the candidates’ answers.

“To cut to the chase of it, and what President Trump sees in him, is high character, high morals,” Vander Plaats said of Whitaker.

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