(Update 4/24: Click here to ready my entry following the conclusion of the Justice Sunday event)
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is set to attend an April 24th telecast where Democrats will be portrayed as being “against people of faith” because of their opposition to President Bush’s judicial choices. The telecast – called “Justice Sunday” - is sponsored by fundamentalist right-wing Christian groups and will also include “Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Chuck Colson, the born-again Watergate figure and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; and Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” according to The New York Times. This purely political event disguised as a religious event is the most obscene use of religion in a political context since the Republicans declared last fall that Democrats planned to ban the Bible.
Congress is currently debating a plan – often called the “nuclear option” – that would allow Republicans to do away with the Senate’s filibuster. Fundamentalist right-wing Christian groups (like the Republican Party-aligned Focus on the Family) support doing away with the filibuster to move the president’s judicial nominees forward. Many Christian organizations, however, oppose the president’s nominees. It is disgusting to suggest that Democratic Party leaders – most of whom are people of faith – are somehow against religious values because they oppose the president's right-wing agenda. The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, recently wrote Senate leaders:
As you know, one source of the Senate’s great power is the guarantee that every Senator has the right to filibuster a piece of legislation or even a particular judicial nominee. Our entire system of checks and balances depends on a full debate in the Senate. In the confirmation process, the filibuster was meant to be used sparingly to promote accountability and compromise. Throughout our history, both political parties have benefited from the opportunity to utilize the filibuster. The “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster would destabilize our system of checks and balances and set a dangerous precedent that threatens other important issues. This would leave the majority with the power to reign with absolute tyranny over everyone in both the minority and dissenting majority. Recognizing that power in both houses of Congress has repeatedly changed hands over time, we are concerned that your rights as a Senator, to speak for your constituents on this issue, would be lost if the unprecedented “nuclear option” is enacted.
The Family Research Council has released a statement explaining the intent of Freedom Sunday:
A day of decision is upon us. Whether it was the legalization of abortion, the banning of school prayer, the expulsion of the 10 Commandments from public spaces, or the starvation of Terri Schiavo, decisions by the courts have not only changed our nation's course, but even led to the taking of human lives. As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism.
For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the ACLU, have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms. Federal judges have systematically grabbed power, usurping the constitutional authority that resides in the other two branches of government and, ultimately, in the American people.
The United Church of Christ is among the Christian bodies opposed to the “nuclear option.”
A coalition of progressive religious leaders and organizations today expressed outrage that Republican leaders are attacking the faith of Democrats and progressives in a cynical, partisan effort to win support for a handful of extremist judicial nominees.
Such an action is immoral, deceitful, and beyond the pale of even politics as usual. We call on Senator Frist to immediately cancel his plans to attend the event, and we urge all elected Republicans to condemn this wholesale attack on the religious practices of their political opponents.
According to the New York Times, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist will join an organization called "The Family Research Council" in a national telecast on April 24. They are calling it "Justice Sunday." They are saying Democrats want to use the Senate filibuster "against people of faith."
The Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy.org will sponsor a national prayer vigil on April 24 and urge citizens of all faith traditions to protest this unprecedented and intolerant act by a few misguided, extremist elements.
The CLN and DriveDemocracy are the coordinators of a national coalition of more than 60 progressive religious organizations. Their national "Breaking the Silence" campaign kicked off April 4 at Riverside Church in NYC and is continuing with a national barnstorming tour of America. Details of these and other events can be found at www.clnnlc.org and www.drivedemocracy.org.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Bill Frist or his right-wing allies represent Christianity. What they truly represent are political hacks willing to misuse Christian tradition for their own political agenda. The president wants to pack the courts with people who have opposed civil rights legislation, worked to limit health care options for women, and who support intrusive governmental powers to pry into our personal and political lives. We cannot allow them to succeed.
Interfaith Leaders Respond
Today I contacted prominent interfaith religious leaders and asked for their response to this issue.
Statement from Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs and Dr. Nazir Khaja
In seeking an understanding of ethical-moral issues that now face us in a technology-driven society, we the people of faith are finding ourselves increasingly disadvantaged. This is mainly because of how political power is being used in Washington; it is not by any means caused by a lack of moral courage and conviction. The continuous assault by those who wish to impose their own values on how others must think about these complex issues is very much exemplified in the latest foray by Senator Frist. In total disregard of the best traditions of our faiths which emphasize tolerance and respect for others, he is using the bully pulpit to coerce and further divide us. We shall not have this happen.
In our traditions, we are told that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by hatred between one human being and the next. The Quran also admonishes people against sowing dissension and obfuscating truth.
Sen. Frist is on dangerous grounds in setting one American against another. He disgraces all faiths and the work that we have done in the interfaith community to establish "common ground" that leads us to higher ground, regardless of one's political affiliation or faith.
People of faith, Republicans and Democrats, have expressed disgust with Sen. Frist's disturbing power play. People of conscience, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, know they are being manipulated. The "Culture of Life" should affirm the dignity of every human being. The Senator negates this.
Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, Temple Kol Tikvah Woodland Hills, CA
Nazir Khaja, M.D., Chairman, Islamic Information Service, Los Angeles, CA
Statement from Rabbi Jack Moline
It is a measure of insecurity when advocates attack the messenger. It means they have no confidence in their ability to respond to the challenge of the message.
Progressive people of faith have a profound respect for the varieties of belief. We have had our activism kindled and nurtured by the very religious devotion that impels us to resist the imposition of a particular faith perspective on others. It is not by sufferance that people of differing faiths -- or no particular faith at all -- are participants in American society. It is by right, by law and by principle. And while we acknowledge -- even insist -- that faith must inform the public service of judge, legislator or average citizen, the only righteous standard of conduct when representing the government of the United States or the individual states is the law of the land, drawn from our foundational documents.
Our founding fathers were people of faith whose combined wisdom kept specific religious language out of the the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They appealed for rectitude to universal values and natural law. Had their intention been to establish a default tradition -- Judaic, Christian or otherwise -- they most certainly had the skill to have crafted a less ambiguous way of declaring it and constituting it.
Denominational rallies for unnamed nominees who judge with a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other strike me as not much different than public demonstrations by organizations promoting racial, ethnic or religious superiority. My grandparents came to this country to escape societies that celebrated that kind of prejudice. My faith in God and in the United States compels me to shine a light on the shadow message of those who would demonize dissent.
Rabbi Jack Moline