Trump receives 'tough questions' on social issues

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has received an open letter from Focus on the Family's CitizenLink network asking him to clarify what CitizenLink's president called a "contradictory record" on abortion and religious freedom among other social issues.

Donald Trump
The Trump campaign has not responded directly to the Feb. 17 letter but addressed some issues raised in the letter in a series of press releases Feb. 15-16. Baptist Press contacted the Trump campaign the afternoon of Feb. 17 but had not received a response by its publication deadline Feb. 18.

CitizenLink's letter, signed by President Paul Weber and the leaders of 25 state-based partner organizations, also raised questions related to government funding of Planned Parenthood, nomination of Supreme Court justices, Trump's personal character and other issues.

CitizenLink is affiliated with but legally separate from Focus on the Family and promotes public policy it believes is consistent with a Christian worldview.

"Time is ticking," Weber said in a news release, "and we want Mr. Trump to clear up his contradictory record on issues Americans care about. We have invited Mr. Trump several times to join our Presidential Candidate Teleconference Series. He has yet to accept, and our constituents are left wondering."

CitizenLink, which has not endorsed any candidate, has hosted teleconferences with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina participated in teleconferences prior to suspending their campaigns. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson is scheduled for a teleconference later this month.

Among the questions posed by CitizenLink which Trump has addressed in news releases:

-- "After years of describing yourself as 'pro-choice in every respect' -- even supporting partial-birth abortion -- you now say that you are pro-life. Your explanation for this change of position -- that a baby who was nearly aborted ended up being a 'superstar' -- is confusing, particularly since you acknowledged that if the child had been 'a loser,' your pro-abortion position probably wouldn't have changed. Please explain this utilitarian view of the sanctity of human life. Do you consider life only worth protecting if it meets certain criteria, and, if so, what are those criteria?"

Trump addressed his change of view regarding abortion in an op-ed on his campaign website, one of three releases Trump issued in mid-February declaring himself pro-life.

"Let me be clear -- I am pro-life," Trump wrote. "I support that position with exceptions allowed for rape, incest or the life of the mother being at risk. I did not always hold this position, but I had a significant personal experience that brought the precious gift of life into perspective for me. My story is well documented, so I will not retell it here."

-- "How do you square your new position on life with your statements in 2015 supporting continued taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion seller?"

Trump, while not mentioning Planned Parenthood by name, denounced "the half billion dollars given to abortion providers every year by Congress" -- the amount of federal funding Planned Parenthood receives annually.

"The Supreme Court in 1973," Trump wrote, "based their [Roe v. Wade] decision on imagining rights and liberties in the Constitution that are nowhere to be found. Even if we take the court at its word, that abortion is a matter of privacy, we should then extend the argument to the logical conclusion that private funds, then, should subsidize this choice rather than the half billion dollars given to abortion providers every year by Congress. Public funding of abortion providers is an insult to people of conscience at the least and an affront to good governance at best."

-- "You've recommended your sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, for the [Supreme Court]. Yet, as a federal judge, she overturned the New Jersey Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, writing that it 'burdened a woman's constitutional right to obtain an abortion.' How can we trust you to nominate judges who will respect the constitutional limits on judicial power and uphold the sanctity of human life?"

Trump has said he was joking when he mentioned his sister as a potential Supreme Court justice, The New York Times reported Feb. 17.

In a news release, Trump called himself "the only candidate who has gone so far, at the [Feb. 13 GOP] debate, as to suggest two individuals I feel would best represent the conservative values we need to protect: William 'Bill' Pryor Jr. and Diane Sykes." He added, "I will appoint a great conservative."

Sykes, a former justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was nominated by George W. Bush to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor was appointed by George W. Bush to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2004 congressional recess appointment after Senate Democrats initially blocked his confirmation. Pryor previously had called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination in constitutional law history," according to a transcript of his 2003 confirmation hearing.

Cruz has said he would have nominated former federal appellate Judge Michael Luttig to fill a 2005 Supreme Court vacancy.

Among CitizenLink's questions on topics not addressed by Trump in this week's news releases:

-- "You claim to support religious freedom, yet a leading gay-activist organization calls you 'one of the best, if not the best, pro-gay Republican candidates to ever run for the presidency' -- particularly because of your 'standout position' when it comes to legislation that forces Christian business owners -- and others of faith -- to either betray their conscience or lose their business. How do you reconcile these contradictory positions?"

-- "You have built your campaign on lifting the economic outlook of lower-income Americans, yet you built your fortune in part on gambling, which preys on those very people. How will you make America great when you've run businesses associated with increased crime, bankruptcies, broken marriages and suicides?"

-- "The first casino in the nation to add a strip club was Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, which boasts of '36,000 square feet of adult entertainment.' What would you say to young girls and women who are concerned about a president who is directly connected with the exploitation of women?"

BP contacted two Southern Baptists who have made remarks supportive of Trump: Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, who has endorsed Trump. Neither was available to provide comments Feb. 18.

The full text of CitizenLink's letter is available at

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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