The controversial “Justice Sunday” program is finishing-up in Louisville, Kentucky.
Speakers are telling their audience on satellite television and the internet that President Bush’s judicial nominees are being opposed because of their Christian faith. America’s “godly heritage,” they insist, requires that Bush’s nominees be voted on without opposition or the use of the filibuster. The truth is that the Bush nominees are opposed by many individual Christians and Christian organizations.
Ironically, convicted criminal Chuck Colson, who was sent to prison for his involvement with the Nixon White House, was the first speaker pleading for Bush’s nominees. Colson is now a born again Christian and favorite of the religious right because of his service to Republican Party leaders.
Judge Charles Pickering, appointed to the federal bench as a recess appointment by the president but not confirmed by the Senate, lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Speakers have been claiming their fight against the filibuster is in the tradition of the civil rights movement for African-Americans. Pickering was opposed by civil rights groups for opposing court decisions in favor of granting minorities equal treatment under the law. Many of the people involved with “Justice Sunday” were vocal opponents of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Focus on Family leader James Dobson, another one of the keynote speakers, used his time on the program to defend Tom Delay’s comments threatening judges. Delay, said Dobson, “has had the courage to put his neck out and been vilified. And I think it’s time to get off his back.” Many Christians, however, have criticized DeLay’s comments.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has come under fire for calling Catholicism a “false religion,” attacked court decisions on civil rights for minorities and women. Mohler praised Roman Catholic court nominee William Prior in an effort to deflect criticism of his own views on the Catholic faith. Prior, however, is an extremist who has no business on any court. People for the American Way reports:
Pryor is a leading architect of the recent “states’ rights” or “federalism” movement to limit the authority of Congress to enact laws protecting individual and other rights. He personally has been involved in key Supreme Court cases that, by narrow 5-4 majorities, have restricted the ability of Congress to protect Americans’ rights against discrimination and injury based on disability, race, and age. Worse, he has urged the Court to go even further than it has in the direction of restricting congressional authority. Just last month, for example, the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, rejected Pryor’s argument that the states should be immune from lawsuits for damages brought by state employees for violation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Pryor has also advocated the view that the Constitution should not apply to some of the most critical issues pertaining to individual rights and freedoms — including reproductive choice, gay rights, and school prayer — and that these matters should be decided by the states, based on majority vote, regardless of whether constitutional rights are violated. Pryor’s ideology would effectively create a balkanized America in which individual citizens may have fewer constitutional rights depending on where they live.
William Donahue, president of the radical Catholic League (who has actually called my site anti-Catholic), called Roman Catholics like Senator Edward Kennedy anti-Catholic for opposing court nominees who oppose abortion. However, the Roman Catholic group Pax Christi USA criticized the event in a statement that reads in part:
“There is a huge problem when politicians and religious leaders manipulate the teachings of their faith to force people to vote a certain way,” said David Robinson, executive director of Pax Christi USA. “What we’re seeing in ‘Justice Sunday’ is a partisan attempt by religious conservatives to declare war on judges that don’t rule in accordance to a right-wing political agenda. Shamefully, in their attempt to bring down those they label as activist judges, they are also branding as unfaithful anyone who disagrees with them. This is disingenuous and dangerous, and an insult to people of faith who view many of the positions supported by the right-wing – whether it be death penalty, the war in Iraq, or economic policies that favor corporations over people – as contrary to their moral values.”
A video taped message from Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was played mid-way through the program (the video is available on Frist's web site). Over 450 leading religious leaders from across the country asked Frist not to take part in an event which questioned the faith commitments of religious people who disagree with the agenda of George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
The National Council of Churches and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism held a press conference on Friday critical of Frist for taking part in this event.
Frist failed to use the opportunity to reject the message of “Justice Sunday.” His appearance before this group was a great disserve to the nation. Frist used part of his time to advocate in favor of the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit. Again, Owen has a record fighting against civil rights.
Not only do Justice Owen’s rulings show her willingness to shape the law in her own mold; they also define an ideological agenda that threatens many of the rights citizens in the Fifth Circuit now take for granted.
In several cases, Justice Owen has dissented from rulings by the Texas Supreme Court affecting the rights of employees, including the right to be free from invidious discrimination. In one such case, Owen embraced an interpretation of a key Texas civil rights law that would have effectively rewritten part of that law and made it much more difficult for employees to prove discrimination. In another case, the majority explained that her dissent "defies the Legislature’s clear and express limits on our jurisdiction." Justice Owen’s dissenting views in these cases were rejected by a Court majority that included justices appointed to the Court by then-Governor Bush.
No one who opposes the president should be accused of not being religious simply because they do not share his view of policy – or theology. Those who sponsored “Justice Sunday” will be remembered for dividing our nation on religious lines in an unprecedented manner. That will be their lasting legacy.
Update: DriveDemocracy has information up on their blog about the counter event they co-sponsored in Louisville with the Clergy and Laity Network. Make sure you read how progressive religious leaders responded to "Justice Sunday."