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Charlottesville, Va. • Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday echoed Pope Francis' remarks to Congress, calling for more inclusion within religion and urging compromise over extremism.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat and one of the highest-ranking Mormons in public office, said taking a hard line with regard to faith can lead to dangerous results, stretching a religious belief to the opposite of its intention.
"In the name of Catholicism and absolutism, we had the crusades, horrible things done in the name of religion," Reid said. "We have now in the Middle East, ISIS, in the name of religion, doing the most atrocious things that a person could do to another human being."
Reid, who spoke at the University of Virginia's inaugural Joseph Smith Lecture on Religious Liberty, noted that Francis cautioned against violence perpetrated in the name of religion and holding simplistic views that see only "good or evil; or if you will, the righteous and sinners."
"The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect too many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps," the pope said Thursday in a historic speech to Congress.
Reid said religion has been challenged with issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion but that people of faith shouldn't use wedge issues to divide people.
"There's a lot of compromise in religion," Reid said, "as there should be."
Kathleen Flake, the university's Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies, who interviewed Reid as part of Saturday's lecture, said the senator was trying to stress inclusion as part of being faithful.
"Even within religion, there is room for compromise, that whatever our morality is, it includes listening to other people and negotiating our needs," Flake said after the event. "Whatever your rule is, that rule should include making space for other people and their convictions."
Reid, who is not seeking re-election in 2016, said that compromise also should extend to politics and took a stab at the partisan mess in Washington. The Senate, he said, used to be a collegial atmosphere but is now "going through some real struggles" unlike its historic legacy as the most deliberative political body in the world.
"The reason they worked [previously] is because people were ladies and gentlemen and wouldn't take advantage of the rules," Reid said. "The last few years, rules have been used, in my opinion, not for the good of the country."
In the wide-ranging discussion, Reid joked at how he asks God for help before facing the news media so that he doesn't "make a fool of myself" and noted that the students were asking tougher questions than their professors, but he also took on a slate of serious issues from religious liberty to money in politics and voting rights.
Reid said that the question of how to ensure religious liberty has been an ongoing issue since the founding of the country, and trying to solve it through legislation is a "lot harder to do than it appears to be."
"Anytime you try to have someone legislate religious liberty," Reid said, "there are other people who feel they're doing just the opposite."
The audience for Reid's speech included Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson and Richard Turley, assistant historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Asked about lawsuits filed over the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive-coverage mandate, Reid noted that there was a simple answer: "If you don't want contraceptives, don't use them."
Though Reid attempted to stay apolitical in his remarks, he occasionally strayed, castigating the Republican Party for being intransigent and citing a recent CNN/ORC poll showing some 40 percent of Republicans wrongly believe that President Barack Obama is Muslim. Obama is Christian.
"You can be a conservative and still work for a better country, and I think part of that has been lost," Reid said, adding later, "Something has got to change. This is so foolish."
The senator saved his biggest criticism of the GOP on efforts to pass voter-identification laws or cut down on early voting.
"The Republican Party," Reid said, "is doing so much that's awful to keep people from voting."
The minority leader said that the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case and the endless amounts of cash flowing into super political action committees and politics in general is dangerous and could lead to a system like Russia, where a few rich people own the political machinery.
"It's just not good for our country," Reid said.
When a young woman asked Reid how he handled the conservative political leanings of most fellow Mormons, the senator said he goes to church to get away from politics, and added that while he has found comfort in all of the congregations he's visited, he wouldn't let someone who disagreed with him ruin the experience.
"If they don't like me," Reid said, "I don't care."