Like many places, Georgia has an unfortunate history of religious bigotry, from the ban on Catholicism imposed at its founding and the infamous lynching of Leo Frank to the anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic rantings of Tom Watson, whose statue stood at the state Capitol until last year. And it seems we have chapters yet to write.
Take the race in the 12th Congressional District between the Democratic incumbent, John Barrow, and his Republican opponent, businessman Rick Allen. Barrow and Allen had both agreed to participate in a debate at the Islamic Community Center in Augusta Saturday, but for reasons that are unclear, the debate is now off and the Columbia County News-Times, a local newspaper, has withdrawn as a co-sponsor.
Most of what ensued after the cancellation is typical campaign nonsense: Barrow’s campaign claims that Allen withdrew; Allen’s camp denies it withdrew and says it is still willing to reschedule. Each accuses the other of ducking debates. Yawn.
But in a press release, Allen’s campaign decided to take it a step further:
In an interview a few minutes ago, McLagen laughed when I asked whether those remarks were appropriate. When I asked what he meant by “Barrow’s obviously close association with the head of the Islamic Center,” McLagen defended it as “merely a statement of fact.” And why did he call the Islamic Center “a suspect venue”? Because of that alleged “close association” between Barrow and the Muslim cleric who runs it, McLagen said.
I’m not buying it. McLagen is a veteran campaigner with a reputation for a stinging tongue and for doing whatever it takes to win. He knew exactly what he was doing in linking his opponent to an Islamic center. And sadly, this is what the folks at the center get for trying to participate in the American process and in the larger community.
No, this doesn’t rise to the level of the events cited above. But by now, it should have no place in our public life.
UPDATE: The debate between Barrow and Allen is now back on for Saturday at 3 p.m.. However, it has now been relocated. It will no longer be held at the Islamic Community Center, and instead at the Evans Government Complex, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Augusta.
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