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On a conference call with members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Sunday, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan accused President Barack Obama of threatening “Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values.”

According to The New York Times, Ryan made the comment while criticizing the president’s health care policies.

“It’s a dangerous path,” the Wisconsin congressman said. “It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”

Ryan’s remarks immediately threw up a red flag, due to certain elements of the political right’s neverending attempts to portray President Obama as a Muslim, a Kenyan, or a terrorist sympathizer, among other “un-American” identities.

Ryan’s dogwhistle campaigning is not unique to the Romney campaign. Campaign co-chair John Sununu has said that the president doesn’t understand the “American system,” because he grew up in Indonesia. Donald Trump, who has raised funds and recorded robocalls on Romney’s behalf, has spent much of the past four years trying to convince voters that President Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery. Even Romney himself cracked a birther joke at a campaign rally in August.

The claim that Obama threatens Judeo-Christian values is especially ironic coming from Paul Ryan. After all, Ryan’s ideological hero Ayn Rand is one of history’s most famous and outspoken atheists. Were she around to hear Ryan’s conference call, she probably would have attacked Ryan for trying “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics,” as she once attacked Ronald Reagan.

Furthermore, prominent leaders of Ryan’s own church have denounced his extreme budget plan for undermining Catholic values. In April the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter declaring that Ryan’s budget cuts “are unjustified and wrong,” and urging Congress to “reject any efforts to reduce funds or restructure programs in ways that harm struggling families and people living in poverty.”

Two weeks later, almost 90 faculty members at Jesuit Georgetown University signed a letter to Ryan criticizing him for his “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”

Similarly, at the Democratic National Convention, Sister Simone Campbell — a leader of the Nuns on the Bus — slammed Ryan’s budget as “immoral” for disregarding the most vulnerable members of society.

Ryan’s comments were likely an attempt to fire up evangelical voters, among whom the Romney campaign needs a huge turnout to have any shot at winning the White House. As Ryan clearly realized when he decided to ditch Ayn Rand in favor of Thomas Aquinas, however, the Republican vice presidential nominee is playing a dangerous game when he invites voters to scrutinize his own relationship with religion.

Photo credit: AP/Steve Helber

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