Government & Politics

Hawley cancels event with preacher who called for regulation of homosexuality

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s campaign abruptly canceled an event with a preacher who once called for government regulation of homosexuality.

Hawley, who is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, was set to appear with Pastor David Barton in Springfield on Wednesday evening for an event geared toward evangelical voters, according to an Eventbrite page promoting the event. Instead, his campaign added a third stop to an agriculture tour with the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The Star contacted Hawley’s campaign Tuesday afternoon to see whether the candidate agreed with Barton’s views about the LGBT rights movement, which Barton has compared to Nazism in the past.

The campaign promoted the event in a news release Tuesday evening, but within 20 minutes of sending that release, Hawley’s spokeswoman Kelli Ford said that it would no longer be taking place due to a scheduling conflict but did not elaborate further on the reason for the cancellation.

Asked at a campaign stop Wednesday morning with the Missouri Farm Bureau in Harrisonville if his campaign canceled because of Barton’s remarks on homosexuality, Hawley also said there was a scheduling conflict.

“My understanding is we just couldn’t fit it in,” Hawley said.

Asked if he agreed with Barton’s comments, Hawley said he hadn’t seen them but that he does “not agree with discrimination against anybody on any basis.”

When read Barton’s remarks, Hawley reiterated that he doesn’t agree with discrimination.

Hawley appeared with Barton on the campaign trail in 2016 and also at a 2017 “Pastors and Pews” event in Kansas City where Hawley made controversial comments linking human trafficking to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Barton, who runs the Texas-based organization WallBuilders, suggested in 2010 on his radio show that the federal government should regulate homosexuality after tying same-sex attraction to risk for suicide and other causes of death.

“Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals,” Barton said at the time, according to several accounts. “That doesn’t sound healthy.”

More recently, Barton compared LGBT rights activists to Nazis on his radio show in 2017 after a trip to Poland.

“The evil that’s there, it still works in the same deceptive means today, it still has that nice smiling face and, you know, a homosexual lifestyle, it’s such a wonderful lifestyle, yeah?” Barton said. “Why don’t you look at the medical stats and see if that’s really true? And so it always disguises itself in different ways, it comes through different means. We see it all the time.”

He went on: “So, what I learned is what I already knew, and that is human nature does not change and if you don’t have the impact of religion to change a heart you will end up like the Nazis.”

Barton also said he did not believe the U.S. would find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, citing a Bible verse that says men who engaged in sexual activities with other men received bodily penalties.

“If you can have a vaccine for AIDS then you’re keeping your body from penalizing. I don’t think they’ll ever find a vaccine for AIDS,” according to a clip online.

Hawley and McCaskill are neck-and-neck in a race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate where Republicans hold a slim majority. In a poll released Wednesday by Ipsos, Reuters and the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the two were virtually tied with 45 percent of likely voters supporting Hawley and 44 percent supporting McCaskill.

In its latest Senate approval ratings released Wednesday, Morning Consult found 48 percent of registered voters disapprove of McCaskill. Only Senators Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., were more unpopular than McCaskill.

In his remarks at a farm and pumpkin patch in Harrisonville, Hawley painted this fall’s election as a stark choice, calling Missouri a “firewall of freedom” that can stop the Democrats from taking control of the Senate. He condemned “radical liberals” in the Senate and their “unprecedented smear campaign” for the tension that arose during now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process following allegations he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school.

“It shows you what the radical liberals are all about,” Hawley said. “They are hungry for power. They will stop at nothing. They will say anything. They will destroy anyone who stands in their way.”

Barton’s organization did not respond Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning to a request for comment from The Star.

Lindsay Wise of The Star’s Washington bureau contributed to this report.