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McCain Vows to Push Religious Freedom

By Juliet Eilperin
ROCHESTER, Mich. -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delved into issues of religious freedom and human rights Wednesday morning, telling a crowd of several hundred supporters that policymakers need to confront the fact that "evil still exists in the world."

Speaking at Oakland University in a town hall meeting, McCain argued the federal government needs to be more aggressive in pushing for greater religious freedom in foreign nations such as China and Iran; working to combat human trafficking both domestically and abroad; and cracking down on illicit material on the Internet.

"We can retain our own freedom when others are robbed of theirs, but not the sense of virtue that made our revolution a moral as well as political crusade, and which recognizes that personal happiness is so much more than pleasure, and requires us to serve causes greater than self-interest," he said.

He pledged to "make religious freedom a subject of great importance for the United States in our relations with foreign nations," and to establish a federal inter-agency task force on human trafficking in an attempt to reduce the number of women and children who are sold into bondage as sex slaves nationwide.

"I will require task force agencies to report directly to me on the status of the problem and the progress we are making to defeat this stain on the reputation and character of the United States," he said, adding that he will "move to clear obstacles to cooperation between federal agencies and their state and local counterparts to ensure maximum cooperation in the pursuit and prosecution of child predators."

"Ours is a nation with a conscience, and thank God we are," he said, sparking one of the multiple rounds of applause the crowd gave him.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera, however, sent an e-mail to reporters noting that McCain opposed an earmark aimed at funding the fight against human trafficking in 2001. "There is also a $200,000 earmark for a conference in human trafficking at the University of Hawaii in this bill," McCain complained at the time.

"Once again McCain's earmark obsession conflicts with his campaign rhetoric," LaVera wrote.

Although the Michigan audience was largely supportive, cheering McCain's pledge to provide easy health care access for veterans, the meeting started out with a few tough questions. McCain singled out a 14-year-old girl who questioned why he opposes eliminating the statute of limitations on lawsuits over workplace discrimination, arguing it amounted to opposing "equal rights for women."

"If you eliminate the statutes of limitations, and you make it unending, you may be violating the rights of the individuals who are being sued, whether they're a man or a woman," the senator responded. "I don't think you're doing anything to help the rights of women, except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession."

The next questioner challenged McCain's approach to addressing the environment, saying he placed too much faith in the free market. "I don't want corporations to decide how to clean up pollution," she said.

"I believe my record on the environment is one I'm very proud of, whether it's protecting the Grand Canyon or climate change," McCain retorted, adding he is committed to "enacting serious and meaningful action" on climate change. "You and I may not agree on all of my solutions."

Shortly afterward, an audience member urged McCain to read a book written by a climate change skeptic and launched into a long speech about America's extensive oil reserves. "We have more oil than Saudi Arabia off the continental shelf of California," he said. "We have a million barrels of oil a day in [the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve], or so I hear on the news."

"And your question?" McCain responded.

"Why don't we drill for it?" the man asked.

"I do believe that we should drill for it, but I'm also a federalist, and I believe in the rights of states to make those decisions," the senator replied. "I can't tell the people of California what to do with their coasts. I can't tell the people of Arizona to drill in the Grand Canyon. I can't say we should drill in the most pristine parts of America."

When McCain did come under tougher questioning, such as when a GOP supporter asked whether voters should be worried about his temper, he got plenty of support in the crowd. McCain responded that he gets angry when he sees wasteful spending and corruption in Washington. "And you know something, the American people are angry, too, and they're not going to take it anymore," he said, prompting yet another round of applause.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 7, 2008; 11:28 AM ET
 
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