Erika Ritchie over at the Orange County Register has the big news:
LAKE FOREST – Rick Warren, Saddleback Church's pastor, announced Wednesday that a civil forum planned with President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the church has been canceled because of what Warren saw as uncivil discourse between the two campaigns.
The forum, planned for this week, would have been two hours long, with each candidate speaking with Warren for 50 minutes. The event would have fallen during the same week when four years ago Warren hosted the first such presidential campaign forum, between then-Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Warren said it was the 2008 forum's success among critics and pundits that led him to consider the idea again this year.
Warren pulled the plug on this year's forum, explaining that the current negative campaign is opposite to what the church's civil forum is about, even as plans had been ramping up to coordinate schedules, secure the area and get traffic control in check for a forum of this size. Planning had begun in March.
Requests for comment from both campaigns have not been returned as of early afternoon.
Warren has held seven civil forums with world leaders. Most recently, the megachurch pastor invited former Prime Minister Tony Blair to speak at Saddleback in March. In that forum, Warren and Blair talked about faith, 9/11 and the conflict in the Middle East. Warren also conducted a civil forum on Global Health in Washington, D.C., in December 2008 with President George W. Bush.
"We created the civil forums to promote civility and personal respect between people with major differences," Warren said. "The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today's campaign. I've never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don't expect that tone to change before the election.
"It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day," Warren added.
Instead, Warren announced plans for a civil forum on religious freedom in September. The event will include national voices from varying faith-based groups.
In an interview with the Register, Warren gave a few more details on his recent decision.
Q. You said you canceled the presidential civil forum because of the negativity and a larger issue. What is that?
A. It is the crumbling of our constitution's first guaranteed freedom: the freedom of religion. This issue is more significant and has far greater implications for America's future. People have forgotten that America was founded by people who came here to escape religious persecution. Freedom of religion is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights - before freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and every other freedom.
And yet today, at the city, the state, and the federal levels, government bureaucrats are daily trying to limit that freedom, impose restrictions, and stifle expressions of faith on campuses, in hospitals, and in businesses. There are widespread attempts to redefine the First Amendment to simply mean "You are free to believe anything at your place of worship but you are not free to practice your conscience elsewhere."
The constitution doesn't just guarantee your freedom to worship; it guarantees you freedom from government intervention in you daily living out what you believe. That's why we've chosen to host a civil forum on religious freedom in September instead of the presidential forum. It's a fight for the constitution, not a personality.
Q. Who will be invited to speak?
A. I have invited the leading Catholic voice in America, the leading Jewish voice in America, and the leading Muslim voice in America to join me. We obviously have different beliefs, but we are all "neighbors" in the national sense and the scriptures command us to "love your neighbor as yourself." But one thing we all have in common is the mutual concern for protecting religious freedom for everyone. We intend to speak out for each other. If the government suddenly decreed that all Jewish delis must now offer pork, you'd find me opposing that with my rabbi friends. I don't have a problem with pork, but I support your right to follow your faith.
Q. What do you think are the candidates' views of religious freedom?
A. President Obama's policies clearly show what he values and I have told him that I adamantly disagree with those particular policies. I have not talked about this issue with Governor Romney, but I would imagine that as a Mormon he'd obviously understand the importance of protecting all religions against persecution, and ensuring people's rights to practice their conscience without government intervention.
Q. Will that forum be televised, too?
A. I hope so. Americans are going to definitely want to hear the leaders I've lined up.
- Rick Warren to Hold 'Presidential Forum' With Obama, Romney (christianpost.com)