Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once compared religious leaders who attacked the Soviet Union to the priests who blessed with holy water the weapons of the czar’s armies. But Pat Robertson has gone Nikita one better, advising the U.S. government to murder Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose progressive government, according to Reverend Pat, threatens to become a haven for “Communist infiltrators” and Muslim terrorists. Reverend Pat then “apologized,” stating that he was just frustrated with Chavez.

But Robertson’s pronouncements raise a number of issues that need to be challenged.

First of all, his charges aren’t even fit for a bad Ronald Reagan movie. Communists don’t “infiltrate” societies. In every country they fight to liberate their own people and the peoples of the world from all forms of exploitation and oppression. The Muslim religious right has much more in common with Robertson’s fanatical right-wing brand of religion than with Communists.

Then there is the question of Robertson’s apology.

How many people have been outraged by Reverend Pat, Jerry Falwell, and their ilk sprinkling holy water on every repressive and reactionary policy pursued by Republican administrations since the 1970s? How many gays have been physically and psychologically injured by the hysteria these backward religious fundamentalists fomented, with their claims that AIDS was God’s revenge against gays or was being consciously spread by gays into the heterosexual population? How many women have been physically and psychologically assaulted by Robertson and other fundamentalists who have vilified reproductive rights and whipped up the political climate where people who perform pregnancy terminations have been killed or maimed by people claiming to do God’s work?

Yet if anyone, angered and frustrated over these assaults, appeared on national television and called for Robertson’s assassination he or she would be surely arrested for making terrorist threats.

What Robertson is so “frustrated” about is that Chavez has challenged the privileges of the Venezuelan upper classes. Robertson is “frustrated” that Chavez is refusing to sacrifice the Venezuelan people to the criminal IMF-World Bank-WTO policy of forcing poor countries to reduce spending for schools, medical care, sanitation, public transportation and subsidies on basic foodstuffs, in the name of creating a global “free market.”

You don’t have to be a right-wing religious fanatic to believe that the global “free market” is sacred, but it helps. It must be comforting to believe that the millions whose lives are cheapened and shortened by IMF-WTO-White House policies will go to heaven for their sacrifice.

Of course, Reverend Pat’s suggestion that the U.S. government murder Hugo Chavez isn’t exactly new in postwar U.S. foreign policy. The revolutionary Congolese leader Patrice Lumunba was the target of direct CIA assassination plots in 1960, and his eventual murder by his political enemies had, at the very least, indirect CIA support. The Central Intelligence Agency turned over long lists of names of Communist Party activists to right-wing terrorist regimes in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Indonesia in 1965 (where an estimated 1 million people were murdered by the rightist military government that took over), and many other countries where U.S.-supported right-wing dictatorships came to power.

The numerous CIA plots to murder Fidel Castro in the 1960s and 1970s are now legendary. These plots, though, were carried out covertly until Ronald Reagan in the 1980s went after leaders of “rogue states” like Libya’s Qaddafi, trying to bomb the right target to kill the leader in the Hollywood action adventure tradition.

Along with torture of prisoners and the denial of due process and habeas corpus rights to alleged enemies, the open use of political murder as an instrument of foreign policy is a barbaric retrogression to a world of warlords and gangsters. A “religious leader” adopting such arguments makes a more powerful case against religion as the foundation of a moral order than the writings of a million atheists ever could.

There are, of course, untold numbers of progressive religionists who both preach and practice the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But these are not the people who collect hundreds of millions of dollars for their “television ministries” and run interference for the most reactionary sectors of American society.

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, et al., crossed the constitutional line establishing the separation of church and state a long time ago.

It is time that both secular and religious people who are not ultra-right begin to fight back against them. First, the tax exemptions of religious groups who are in effect major activist groups inside the Republican Party can be investigated and removed by a government willing to do so. Those who dress racism, sexism and homophobia in religious garb deserve to condemned rather than catered to. Those who casually call for the murder of foreign heads of state, or anyone for that matter, should be held accountable for their statements. To passively accept a political climate in which such statements are made by authority figures is to insure that such statements will be eventually acted upon.

Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University.