Christopher Hitchens' latest column in Slate states: "In April 2004, Barack Obama told a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times that he had three spiritual mentors or counselors: Jeremiah Wright, James Meeks, and Father Michael Pfleger--for a change of pace, a white Catholic preacher who has a close personal feeling for the man he calls (as does Obama) Minister Farrakhan."
Pfleger is the Pastor at St. Sabina's Catholic Church, on the South Side of Chicago. So I searched Westlaw's ALLNEWS database for "Obama and Pfleger."
According to the April 5, 2004 Chicago Sun-Times article cited by Hitchens:
Friends and advisers, such as the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in the Auburn--Gresham community on the South Side, who has known Obama for the better part of 20 years, help him keep that compass set, he says.As Hitchens wrote, Rev. Pfleger is indeed an admirer of "Minister Farrakhan." Ambushed by a Bill O'Reilly camera crew, Pfleger stated: "He has--first of all, he has not called Judaism a gutter religion of blood suckers. That is not what he has said because I have heard that talk. I stick up for Louis Farrakhan because he is another person that the media has chosen to define how they want to do it. And they demonize how they want to demonize somebody. I know the man, Louis Farrakhan. He is a great man. I have great respect for him, ho has done an awful lot for people and this country, black, white, and brown. He's a friend of mine." (The O'Reilly Factor, Apr. 3, 2008.) Farrakhan spoke at St. Sabina's on May 25, 2007. (Chicago Sun Times, May 10, 2007.)
"I always have felt in him this consciousness that, at the end of the day, with all of us, you've got to face God," Pfleger says of Obama. "Faith is key to his life, no question about it. [It is] central to who he is, and not just in his work in the political field, but as a man, as a black man, as a husband, as a father.... I don't think he could easily divorce his faith from who he is."
Like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was recently an invited speaker at Rev. Pfleger's church, Rev. Pfleger believes that "racism is still America's greatest addiction." (Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 17, 2004.)
In September 2007 in Iowa, Plfeger participated in forums on the role of spirituality in politics, which the Obama campaign had organized. (US Federal News, Oct. 1 & 14, 2007; Chicago Sun Times, Sept. 12, 2007). The Obama campaign touted Pfleger's endorsement, listing him as one of about a dozen prominent ministers who supported Obama. (Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 8, 2007.)
As a state legislator, Obama obtained $225,000 in grants for St. Sabina. (Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2007.)
Rev. Pfleger was a prominent early endorser of Obama's successful 2004 Senate campaign, as well as his unsuccessful 2000 challenge to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.
Rev. Pfleger's church has taken some admirable stands against the degradation of American culture, such as speaking out against abusive rap music, and hosting a speaker who exposed the anti-Catholic compilation of lies in "The DaVinci Code." (Chicago Defender, May 15, 2006.) St. Sabina also organized a rally against the genocide in Darfur. (Chicago Sun Times, May 19, 2005.) Rev. Pfleger appeared at a press conference to support state legislator Obama's bill requiring the police to keep statistics on the race of motorists who were stopped by the police, so as to deter racial profiling. (Chicago Defender, Feb. 20, 2001.)
Rev. Pfleger also appeared at a press conference announcing State Senator Obama's proposal to outlaw the sale of bidi cigarettes--a type of high-nicotine hand-rolled cigarette which is made in India. (Chicago Defender, Feb. 5, 2000.)
Rev. Pfleger does not respect the property rights of persons who sell products he does not like. He "is known for climbing ladders to deface liquor billboards." (Crain's Chicago Business, Dec. 20, 2004.)
The Westlaw database does not indicate that Sen. Obama has participated in the project which has gained Rev. Pfleger notoriety among Bill of Rights advocates: his persecution of Chuck's Gun Shop. Since all firearms stores have been driven out of Chicago, the closest firearms store to Chicago is Chuck's Gun Shop, in Riverdale, a short distance south of Chicago. Pursuant to Illinois law, Chuck's only sells guns to customers who have already obtained a Firearms Owner's Identification Card (FOID) issued by the Illinois State Police after a background check. The employees of Chuck's Gun Shop have also voluntarily undertaken the "Don't lie for the other guy" training program sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to help gun store employees detect straw purchases (purchases by legal buyers conducted on behalf of prohibited persons).
Yet the Reverends Michael Pfleger and Jesse Jackson have been organized large crowds to repeatedly picket Chuck's Gun Shop. On June 23, 2007, Revs. Jackson and Pfleger were arrested for criminally obstructing the entrance to the store. The charges were eventually dropped, just as Governor George Wallace never was criminally punished for standing in a doorway to obstruct the exercise of constitutional rights. (The comparison is a little unfair, since Wallace eventually stood aside, whereas Jackson and Pfleger had to be physically removed by the police.)
In another demonstration at Chuck's Gun Shop, owned by John Riggio, Rev. Pfleger told the crowd: "We're going to find you and snuff you out....Like a rat you're going to hide. But like a rat, we're going to catch you and pull you out....We're going to snuff out John Riggio." Rev. Pfleger also promised: "We're going to snuff out legislators that are voting against our gun laws. We're coming for you because we're not going to sit idly."
Rev. Pfleger later denied that his words had been meant to invoke violence, or that he had known that "snuff out" means to "kill." Rather, the determination to "snuff out" Riggio was a determination to find out his home address, which was not publically available.
According to Roget's Thesaurus, "snuff out" means "kill" and is similar to the following words: "blow away, bump off, chill, dispatch, dispose of, do away with, do in, dust, grease, hit, ice, knock off, murder, off, rub out, stretch out, waste, wax, whack, zap." In response to Rev. Pfleger's words, Cardinal Francis George, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, stated: "Publicly delivering a threat against anyone's life betrays the civil order and is morally outrageous, especially if this threat came from a priest." (Chicago Sun Times, June 8, 2007.)
Rev. Pfleger proclaimed that the protests would continue (and that he would refuse to pay a fee imposed by a city ordinance to pay for the police services necessitated by the picketing) until the Riverdale city council decides to eliminate all gun stores, and "vote Riverdale gun-free." Or as Rev. Pfleger's picketers chanted, "Vote Riverdale gun dry." (Chicago Defender, Oct. 29, 2007).
Every American voter will have to decide how much importance, if any, to give to Sen. Obama's association with Rev. Pfleger. In my own view, I give greater attention to a religious figure who is a long-standing personal advisor to a candidate than to a religious figure who is merely one of thousands of political allies whom the candidate seeks out during a campaign. In deciding how to vote, I ignore purely theological issues (e.g., whether the Mitt Romney's LDS view of the afterlife is more plausible or less plausible than John Kerry's Roman Catholic view), but I consider the extent to which the candidate's religious philosophy may (like any other part of the candidate's worldview) influence his or her public policy decisions. In my view, it is relevant that a candidate has chosen spiritual mentors who are bigots or who are hostile to constitutional rights. Senator Obama's close relationship with Rev. Pfleger makes me less confident that a President Obama would be a strong defender of the entire Bill of Rights and of civic tolerance.