By Julian Pecquet - 11/27/13 03:45 PM EST
The campaign committee for Senate Republicans on Wednesday denounced President Obama's policies as “anti-religion” following a decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.
The State Department says it wants to locate the embassy inside the larger U.S. Embassy to Italy to save money and better protect U.S. diplomats, especially after last year's deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Conservative critics, however, see it as another attack on religion following the healthcare reform law's mandate that insurers cover birth control.
“This is just the latest anti-religion pursuit of this administration, a slap in the face to Catholic-Americans around the country that weakens America’s position as a global leader,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in an ad. The ad, which features a demonic-looking Obama ominously glaring at a Vatican shrouded in darkness, links to a petition calling on the administration to reverse its decision.
The ad immediately provoked a backlash on Twitter, where reporters criticized the committee for a personal attack on the president's religion. Obama has long been plagued by unfounded rumors that he's secretly Muslim.
“The debate is ENTIRELY over the Administration's policy, not the President's religion,” Brad Dayspring, the committee's communications director, shot back. He stood by the ad.
.@ron_fournier The debate is ENTIRELY over the Administration's policy, not the President's religion. That's also absurd.— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) November 27, 2013
The new embassy would be housed in a distinct building from the embassy to Italy and have its own entrance, according to the State Department. The Vatican has also tacitly approved of the move, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
“We reject any suggestion that this decision, made for security and administrative reasons, constitutes a downgrading of our relations with the Holy See,” a State Department official told The Hill in an email. “The United States continues to regard the Holy See as a key bilateral partner in promoting religious freedom, protecting religious minorities, advancing humanitarian causes, and mitigating conflicts around the world.”
Nevertheless, five former U.S. envoys who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton are objecting, according to the Reporter.
“It's turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy," said ex-Ambassador James Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States, and to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican."
President Obama's current ambassador, Ken Hackett, disagreed.
“I see no diminishing in the importance of the relationship at all,” he told the Reporter. “The relationship between the Vatican and the U.S. government hasn't been better than it is right now in quite a while.”