Trying to change the subject?

For a while the Monica Goodling hearing turns into a battle over the validity of a Christian education.

Published May 23, 2007 7:33PM (EDT)

For a while Wednesday afternoon the Monica Goodling hearing on the prosecutor purge became a battle over the validity of a Christian education.

It all started with the questions of Rep. Steve Cohen, the first Jewish congressman to be elected from Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible Belt, where roughly 51 percent of the voters identify as white evangelical Christians. He may know something about being judged for his religious beliefs. But that didn't stop Cohen on Thursday from questioning Monica Goodling, a devout Christian, on her own decision to go to school with people who shared her religion.

"The mission of the law school you attended, Regent, is to bring to bear upon legal education and the legal profession the will of almighty God, our creator. What is the will of almighty God, our creator, on the legal profession?" he asked, apparently attempting to provoke some reaction. B

Goodling wisely dodged. "I'm not sure that I could define that question for you," she said.

As has been reported, Goodling graduated in 1995 from Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., where the school motto is "Christ Preeminent." After spending one year in law school at American University, she transferred to Pat Robertson's Regent University School of Law, in Virginia Beach, Va., where the motto is "Christian Leadership to Change the World." According to the ranking by U.S. News and World Report, Regent is a "forth-tier" law school, accepting more than half of its applicants. Yale, which ranks as the nation's top law school, accepts less than 7 percent of applicants.

Cohen was apparently suggesting that something fishy was afoot at Regent. He apparently didn't think much of Goodling's diploma. He asked if she had an opinion on the roughly 150 Regent alums who have been hired by the Bush Administration.

"I think we have a lot more people from Harvard and Yale," Goodling deadpanned.

"That's refreshing," Cohen shot back. "Is it a fact -- are you are of the fact that in your graduating class 50 to 60 percent of the students failed the bar the first time?"

"I'm not," said Goodling. "I don't remember the statistics, but I know it wasn't good. I was happy I passed the first time."

Cohen's line of questioning gave Republicans an opportunity to change the subject from Goodling's performance at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney scandal. After the lunch break, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., began speaking of a rising tide of anti-Christian bigotry, nearly suggesting that the apocalypse was nigh. "Many of us feared this day would come, but we did not realize it would arrive so soon, when the fact that someone was a Christian would be the subject of a line of questioning as to how someone performed their job at the Department of Justice or any other agency in the United States government," he said. "It's not a good day, nor a good sign of things to come."

Several Republicans noted that both Yale and Harvard were founded out of the Puritan tradition. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, went even further. He suggested that Cohen's line of questioning might cause anti-Christian bigots to act out violently against Christians. If that occurred, he said, "The person on this committee could possibly be charged under the Hate Crimes bill."

Of course, all of this has nothing to do with what Goodling did or did not do at the Department of Justice.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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