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Pitts, Palin and the Bible

At least one reader should be happy with the column by Leonard Pitts Jr. that appeared on our Oct. 1 Voices page.

In case you missed it, Pitts apologized for an earlier piece on Sarah Palin, which angered a lot of readers.

We ran that first column Sept. 21. In it, Pitts posed some questions for Palin, including one about whether she believes the biblical account of Adam and Eve is the literal truth.

Our reader — maybe he was one of those who Pitts heard from directly — saw that first column as an attack on Christians who subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

In a thoughtful e-mail, the offended reader challenged me to give careful consideration to his charges that Pitts’ remarks amounted to hate speech.

“As a Christian, I unfortunately am subjected to this type of hate speech regularly by many factions within the media,” my correspondent wrote.

“Tolerance of hate speech is dubious and quite dangerous, especially in a free society. Please consider my email thoughtfully. You can make a difference in squashing all forms of hate speech in the future.”

It seems to me, the reader’s request is a much taller order than it might appear at first glance.

When does questioning a candidate’s religious beliefs cross from legitimate commentary to hate speech? The answer isn’t simple.

A candidate’s faith will inform the decisions he or she will make if elected. In that context, discussion — even criticism — of religious beliefs ought to be fair game for political commentary.

Was it hate speech to question the effect that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons might have on an Obama presidency?

No doubt some comments aimed at Wright would qualify as hateful, but the topic itself was legitimate. Voters deserve to know how the next president will be influenced by faith.

Many Americans will find comfort in a candidate who takes a literal view of the Bible. Others will find cause for concern. All sides deserve to be heard and a chance to argue their case.

In a better America, there would be more respect for divergent views and less rancor. But we need to be free to argue about what values and tenants are best for our nation.

Readers can decide for themselves whether Pitts crossed a line. But all voters will be looking for answers that will help determine the candidates who share their values.