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Congressman says church, state should be separate

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"Christianity is indeed one of the great religions, and there's nothing in the resolution that isn't necessarily true," said Ackerman, who is Jewish. "I'm not against Christmas at all." He said he opposed the measure because he strongly believes in the separation of church and state and wanted Congress to focus on key issues, such as health care and the subprime mortgage crisis.The non-binding resolution, HR 847, passed the chamber in a 372-9 vote. Gonzalo Policarpio, a Republican from Douglaston who ran against Ackerman for Congress in 2004; the New York-based Filangieri Society For Justice and Good Government, which has mailed out letters; and a host of religious and right-wing Web sites have lambasted the congressman for his "no" vote. They cited his support for an Oct. 2 resolution recognizing the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and an Oct. 29 resolution acknowledging the Hindu, Jain and Sikh festival of Diwali as proof of Ackerman's alleged anti-Christian bias.The congressman sharply rejected that analysis, dismissing his opponents as "the same old crew" of political operatives. He further asserted that these earlier resolutions had "compelling objectives" and appeared in a different context not directly comparable to that of HR 847.Ackerman said that while the federal government has issued postage stamps for Christmas and Ramadan, there was no equivalent for Diwali and that, in recognition of the imbalance, the resolution was offered as an expression of goodwill.The resolution recognizing Ramadan, Ackerman noted, mentions the religious occasion only in passing, and largely focuses on supporting moderate Muslims who oppose Islamic extremism. "It celebrates the fact that a great number of Muslims have spoken against hatred, and it encourages them to speak out," he said.Nonetheless, the congressman conceded that the juxtaposition of the votes left him open to attack. "I suppose I could have been a real purist and rejected [all of them]. I should have seen it coming," he said.Ackerman said he regretted that some constituents had misconstrued his vote and went on to say that his record reveals him as a man who has always supported religious freedom for all groups, including Palestinian Christians, whose particular plight has long been overshadowed by the overarching Jewish-Muslim tensions between Israel and its neighbors. "I'm sorry this has caused pain and anguish to some of my constituents," he said, "but people who know me and know my record and my staff... find a champion for religious freedom in this office."Reach reporter M. Junaid Alam by e-mail at malam@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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