Dogma Alert

Monday, April 25, 2005

U.S. evangelicals rally for change

Demand more conservative judiciary
Judges called out-of-control `oligarchy'

Apr. 25, 2005. 06:42 AM

SEVERN, Md. - America's evangelical leaders teamed with the top Republican in the U.S. Senate last night in a fiery national appeal to churchgoers to help put social conservatives on American courts.

In the latest salvo in the ever-burning U.S. culture wars, judges were condemned in a simulcast from Louisville, Ky., as an arrogant, out-of-control "oligarchy'' in black robes who are thwarting the majority's wishes.

The 90-minute appeal was broadcast over the Internet, made available to Christian broadcast networks and beamed into churches such as Living Hope Church in this tiny Maryland community south of Baltimore where about 30 people gathered to applaud and shout encouragement to speakers on a large screen.

"Democrats in this country are seeking vetoes for people of faith,'' said Charmaine Yoest of Laurel, Md., who came to the small evangelical church to listen to Focus on the Family leader Dr. James Dobson and Senate Majority leader Bill Frist.

"It's not right to say that if you bring religious ideology into the public square that you are not qualified to serve," Yoest said. "That's not the American way.''

Pastor Paul Schindler said it was only proper to bring politics into his church because religion drives morals and values in America.

"When the liberals rally their troops it doesn't seem to make news,'' he said, "but when conservatives do it seems to ruffle feathers. It's a bit of a double standard.''

Dobson, the country's most influential evangelical leader, warned that everything from same-sex marriage to replays of the death of an innocent like Terri Schiavo are at stake if "unelected, unaccountable and imperious'' judges continue to make law in the United States.

The 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. led to 44 million deaths over the past 32 years, "the biggest holocaust in world history,'' Dobson said.

Last night's event was organized by the Family Research Council but it was the appearance of Frist, expected to be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, that sparked the most controversy.

He broke from House Majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who has called for impeachment of judges.

Frist said he will speak out when judges rule outside the U.S. mainstream, but said they deserve "respect, not retaliation.''

This attack on the judiciary will have long-range ramifications for Americans because it is a foreshadowing of a congressional battle over U.S. President George W. Bush's conservative judicial nominees that some observers here believe could essentially shut down all federal legislation.

Frist is leading the charge to change rules, dubbed the "nuclear option," that would allow the Senate to confirm Bush's judicial choices with a mere 51 votes, not the requisite 60, which allows a minority party — in this case the Democrats — to block nominees by using the filibuster, a tactic used for years in the U.S. system.

If the Republicans can get the rule change through the Senate, they will be well placed to ease the way for Supreme Court nominations that could begin as early as the end of the spring session when illness and age could create at least one vacancy for Bush to fill.

Democrats, who stand accused of blocking some of Bush's nominees in the last Congress because the judges had strong religious beliefs, have vowed retaliation by slowing or halting day-to-day legislative business.

"For years, activist courts aided by liberal interest groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, 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 freedom," Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in promoting last night's simulcast.

He expanded on that yesterday in an interview with Fox News Sunday, saying courts have taken prayer out of schools, prevented prayer before school football games, have stripped the Ten Commandments from public buildings and paved the way for same-sex marriage.

People For the American Way yesterday released an ad it first aired in 1980, written by Norman Lear, showing a hardhat at a construction site complaining about the church picking and choosing "good" Christians based on their political views.

"Here come some preachers on the radio and TV and in the mail, telling us on a bunch of political issues that there's just one Christian position, and implying if we don't agree, we're not good Christians," says the hardhat.

"Maybe there's something wrong when people, even preachers, suggest other people aren't good Christians, depending on their political views."

Ralph Neas, president of the PFAW, said the ad was never more relevant in the face of a direct attack on the decision by U.S. founding fathers to establish an independent judiciary as the ultimate check on government power.

The NARAL Pro-Choice America organization also launched a national campaign to counter last night's message, telling Frist and "radical" Christians that one can be a Christian and still support a moderate, independent judiciary.

"I don't recognize the God Senator Frist and company speak of," said Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, a NARAL board member.

"The God I know does not ask the government to impose one person or group's moral beliefs on all others," she said. "The God I know would not have us pit believers against one another in the service of a purely political agenda."

Even some Republicans were leery of last night's appearance by Frist.

"I would call (on these groups) to not go down the road of saying that the Democratic senators are not people of faith or (saying) that they're religious bigots,'' said Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina.

"I don't think that helps the country, and I don't think that's fair.''

There are 55 Republicans in the Senate, but to "go nuclear'' they will only need 50 plus the vote of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, who pledged Friday to break a tie in favour of the rule change if needed.

The vote, expected as early as mid-May, will be close.


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