On Monday night, Fox News facilitated yet another tussle between a prominent atheist and a well-known faith leader (there was also this uncomfortable encounter months back). In the latest spat, fill-in host Laura Ingraham (in for Bill O'Reilly) facilitated a spirited ideological and theological match between Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist in Dallas, Texas, and David Silverman, president of American Atheists.
(Related: 44% of Americans Can‘t Name Obama’s Religion)
In the beginning of the segment, Ingraham discussed the startling new Gallup poll that found that 44 percent of Americans cannot name Obama's religion. She also mentioned another poll from last week that found a willingness among more than half of the U.S. population (54 percent) to vote for an atheist candidate for the presidency.
"Has the role of religion in government in the highest office changed?," Ingraham asked. Then, she launched the conversation by appealing to Silverman and asking him if he believes the poll showing support for an atheist candidate is a victory for his movement. The secularist leader responded by saying that we are now witnessing the "de-bigoting" of America.
After Ingraham and Silverman debated a bit over cultural norms and the secular values she believes are prevalent, the conversation turned to Jeffrees and his take on the president's faith. While he believes that Obama is a Christian based on the president's own words, the pastor highlighted many of the issues that make citizens question his faith -- something that Silverman took issue with.
At one point, Silverman interrupted Jeffrees and Ingraham told him to let the faith leader finish, while also throwing in a dig (you can hear her saying "God bless you, David" as Jeffrees talks). Ironically, Jeffrees admitted that there are some instances in which he'd vote for an atheist over a Christian (i.e. pending the values the candidate holds). Silverman responded favorably to this notion, telling Jeffrees that he isn't a bigot.
But the conversation went haywire when Ingraham and Jeffrees asserted that the federal government is attacking religious freedom. Naturally, the contraceptive mandate came up as evidence for this alleged governmental abuse -- something that Silverman flatly disagreed with.
"Contraception? You're actually saying that humans do not have the right to have contraception the way they see fit," he proclaimed.
"It's not just the HHS mandate," Jeffrees countered.
"What is it? Tell me how there's an attack again religion? Really, I want to know how I think there's an attack...," Silverman responded.
In the end, Silverman didn't seem to believe that there is widespread angst over the mandate, despite a massive Catholic campaign and response called "Fortnight for Freedom."
Watch the exchange, below: