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Special Report Roundtable - March 22

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have got influence in Afghanistan and we're going to use it to remind them that there are universal values. It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, when a story comes up in Wheeling, West Virginia, it's a sure sign that it has some legs and the story of course concerns this former Muslim who converted to Christianity 16 years ago and got into a custody battle with his wife over the children and she said she reported him to the authorities for his conversion and there was a prosecutor there in Afghanistan who thought he should be put to death for it.

Now some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call" and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, Fox News contributors all. OK, folks, what about this issue? What does it tell us? It's now fairly clear that the Afghans are thinking, maybe the guy is nuts and therefore they won't have to try him.

MARA LIASSON, NPR: That would be a way out of it but, look, this raises some really, really important issues about how you create democracies that are also Islamic and I think the implications for Iraq are tremendous. In other words, in Afghanistan, Sharia, which is Islamic law is the basis for a lot of their law. And if Iraq is going to do something similar, there are going to be a lot of questions raised. What kinds of laws regarding freedom of religion, women's rights, things that the president says are universal .

HUME: And are also enshrined alongside the Koran and Islamic law in the Afghan constitution.

LIASSON: That's right. In the constitution but there's a lot of -- a democracy isn't just one election as we keep on saying over and over again. There is a lot of pieces to this and what about local authorities and what kind of leeway do judges have?

HUME: If you are going to have an independent judiciary.

LIASSON: Yeah. And they can decide on any punishment they want including death, and look, in Pakistan, we hear about this. And in India the incredible punishments that are meted out to women. I think this is a really big area.

KONDRACKE: Especially when you have got the lever of U.S. assistance and U.S. engagement involved here. In this case, it's being used for good in so far as -- not only the United States but also Italy and Germany are leaning on the Afghan government and now you se they may declare him not guilty by reason of insanity, we may have to give him asylum for all I know, because there may be retribution by bigots.

HUME: He has been living there as a Christian perfectly peacefully for 16 years.

KONDRACKE: No with high visibility. No fatwas declared against him. But Mara is right. This does raise all kinds of questions about Iraq. And I've seen reports that Basra, which used to be -- in southern Iraq, Shiite city, used to be a fairly open place, is now, the women are now covered up and Sharia law, strict Sharia law is in place and that sort of thing that is part of what the sectarian fight is all also about.

We are trying to have some freedom of religion in the constitution in Iraq. All these issues are right. But I think fundamentally, we are dedicated to the freedom of Afghanistan. We are just going to have to lean on them to do the best that they can at this particular stage in their history.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": We're going to have to particularly lean on them if they want the aid to keep coming. Obviously if this guy is executed, can you imagine what Congress is going to do? Look what they did in the case of the benign Dubai ports deal. And this isn't benign.

And the problem is this is not just an obviously overaggressive local prosecutor. The attorney general of the entire country of Afghanistan wants this Christian to be hung. And that's not encouraging at all. That's for sure. And it does, Brit, as you were saying, they have the sharia law but they also have the constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.

I think there is a bit of a conflict there but one other thing. The president was right in what he said. I don't think the Germans and the Italians are leaning that hard. But behind the scenes, the U.S., at least I've been told, anyway, our people there are moving heaven and earth to get this case solved in a way that this guy is let off and not executed. It would be catastrophic, I think, for Afghan-American relations.

LIASSON: But I don't think it is just a matter of making sure he is not executed, it sounds like the Afghans have already kind of figured out an exit. Oh, he is crazy. We will say reason of insanity. I think it's about the law. And there was a big debate in Iraq, remember when they were writing the constitution whether Sharia would be the source or a source.

BARNES: A source.

LIASSON: OK. A source. But when does it apply and when does it not apply? And I think the United States, if it continues with this very ambitious project of ending tyranny around the world, as the president would say, and trying to establish democracies has to decide what are the preconditions.

HUME: Is it fair to say that we can now see circumstances under which a don't ask, don't tell policy might work very well?

KONDRACKE: This is the kind of situation here where you do have to -- we have to keep saying, we are not going to impose our style of democracy on these countries. And after all, they are way behind the western tradition in observing religious freedom.

HUME: What. Stop for a second. That is certainly true in the way faith is practiced in some parts of that world. But as a number of people have pointed out, the Koran does not speak of such punishments. The Koran speaks of religious tolerance and so the Sharia law has kind of grown up by practice over the years. It is not necessarily ordained in the annals of Islamic faith that this should be practiced in this way.

BARNES: We shouldn't insist that the Afghan democracy look exactly like ours, but on the other hand there are certain principles that we do have to insist on and freedom of religion is right at the top of the list.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, are Americans softening their attitude toward gay rights? And what are the implications if they are? There is a new poll out. We'll talk about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Back with our panel. Let's look at some numbers on gay marriage that just came today -- and gay adoption that came out from the Pew Center polling operation.

As you can see, in July of '03, opposition to gay marriage was about where it is now but in February of 2004 after Massachusetts said that it decided - the Supreme Court there decided that its constitution made gay marriage a necessity, or at least legalized it under the constitution, it shot up. Now it's receded.

Now look at gay adoption. This is an issue which formerly, as you can see back in 1999 was really quite overwhelming opposed by a distinct majority of Americans. Nowadays it is very close. Only a narrow plurality opposed gay adoption.

Worth noting by the way that within that subset of those questions, African Americans, their attitudes do not appear to have changed at all on this issue of gay adoption. They're exactly where they were seven years ago.

Now the politics of all this. What does this tell us about this issue? Is this an issue that is going to be tip toed around by everybody this year? Is this an issue likely to come to a head? What do we conclude here?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, a lot of trends in this poll make some sense, as in some kind of overall liberalization of attitudes over a long period of time. On the other hand, in 2004 when a lot of attention was paid to it, people started paying attention to it and more of them didn't like it. That could happen again. I can imagine there was another political issue.

HUME: As the profile of the issue goes up the support for gay marriage goes down?

LIASSON: That seems to be what this shows. Now we don't know what's going to happen in this election year. The interesting data on the African Americans -- We know in Ohio in 2004, that was a source of President Bush's better performance among that voting group. Conservative, a lot of time religious, after African Americans who were opposed to abortion and opposed to gay marriage gave Republicans their support.

Could it become an issue again? There has to be some kind of vehicle. There were these anti-gay marriage amendments in these states that caused different kinds of voters or a certain kind of voter to come out. We don't know what there will be this time.

KODNRACKE: I think if the issue gets elevated they way it was after the Massachusetts thing that there will be a reversion to those high numbers opposing it. I think the country is not yet anywhere near a majority in favor of gay marriage.

What I find curious is that more people are in favor of gay marriage than they are in favor -- there are more people opposed to gay marriage than opposed to gay adoption, which doesn't make any sense to me. If two adults want to get married, what's the problem?

HUME: But it may be the case that gay adoption is something that has been happening for a long time. And gay marriage, the legalization of it at least is a relatively new idea . KONDRACKE: I think that's right.

LIASSON: And there are celebrity couples adopting.

KONDRACKE: And there's no evidence -- But we don't know for sure how kids grow up in a gay household. We have no evidence that there is anything wrong with it, which and kids are presumably better off than in foster care or an orphanage so it's understandable that people would be reasonable liberal about it but they also ought to be liberal about gay marriage.

LIASSON: How do those two things follow?

KONDRACKE: Sure they should. The one question that didn't get asked here is civil unions. Which seems to me there would be a large number of people in favor of that.

BARNES: I'm going to tell the American people they haven't measured up to Mort's specifications because there's this little inconsistency thing. Look, I think you have to pay attention to polls that cover trends over years, because you have benchmarks along the way. And I think the reason is correct that has been cited by Mort and Mara, that since it hasn't been a big issue, it becomes more acceptable. Certainly liberals think that about abortion. They are trying to drive up the abortion issue because they think that will help them and it will be less popular to be a bigger issue.

KONDRACKE: The anti-abortion people are?

BARNES: No, pro-abortion people are the ones who want to talk it up a lot. They always think if it's a big issue on the ballot, it helps liberals. That's what they believe. I don't think it is necessarily true, but they believe that. You can imagine things. If the Supreme Court, say, ruled that gay marriage had to be accepted all over the country, I think that number would shoot up a lot.

HUME: Opposition to it?

BARNES: Opposition to it. Right now, whenever there are these gay marriage referenda on the ballot in states to ban gay marriage, they pass. That conflicts with the sinking numbers.

LIASSON: I don't think it conflicts with an overall, very slow, gradual liberalizing trend.

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