Less than a month after helping to get Don Imus removed from the radio airwaves following an offensive remark about the Rutgers women's basketball team, the Reverend Al Sharpton is drawing criticism for a quip about the Mormon presidential candidate.
Hundreds of people at the New York Public Library laughed Monday night when Rev. Sharpton joked that a Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, would lose the election.
"As for the one Mormon running for office," Rev. Sharpton said, "those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that — that's a temporary situation."
Rev. Sharpton's remark — made at a debate on Christopher Hitchens's new book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" — came in response to a broad attack on Christianity by the author, who said minutes earlier that "one of the current candidates for the Republican nomination" is a member of the Mormon church, which, until the 1960s preached "as an article of faith that the Bible separates the sons of Ham and makes them lesser." (The ‘Curse of Ham' had been cited historically to justify racial segregation.)
In an interview last night, Rev. Sharpton called his critics "politically exploitative," saying they "fabricated a nonexistent issue." He said he was rebuffing Mr. Hitchens's own attack on religion, not criticizing it — or Mr. Romney.
"It is terribly disheartening and disappointing to hear Reverend Sharpton offer such appalling comments about a fellow American's faith," a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, Sarah Pompei, said.
Throughout the debate, Rev. Sharpton said religion encouraged morality, and Mr. Hitchens said religion has justified human cruelty like war and slavery throughout history.
A spokeswoman in Utah for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, Kim Farah, called Rev. Sharpton's remarks "merely campaign rhetoric."
The president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, William Donohue, said Rev. Sharpton should apologize to Mr. Romney for what Mr. Donohue called "bigotry."
"That basically says that all believers outside of Mormonism are bound to vote against Romney because he's a Mormon," Mr. Donohue said. "For a man of his stature to be making these kinds of bigoted comments about a presidential contender is scurrilous."