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April 30, 2005

Column #1,235

 

                 "Justice Sunday" Politics in the Church                             

                               

     Last Sunday night on a telecast organized by Christian conservatives and broadcast from a large Louisville Baptist Church to several hundred congregations and potentially 60 million homes via cable TV, Sen. Bill Frist, Republican leader of the Senate, argued for a change in Senate rules to end the Democratic use of the filibuster to block votes on 10 nominees of President Bush to federal appeals courts.

 

     Sen. Harry Reid, leader of Democratic Senators, had denounced Frist as a "radical Republican" for participating in the "Justice Sunday" telecast, aimed at building conservative support to end the filibuster, a parliamentary tactic which allows 41 Democratic Senators to indefinitely postpone a vote on a judicial nominee without an up or down vote on a nominee.

 

     "I don't think it's radical to ask senators to vote," Frist said in a videotaped statement. "Now if Sen. Reid continues to obstruct the process, we will consider what opponents call the 'nuclear option.' Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote. Most places call that a democracy."  

 

     With a simple majority vote, the Senate could waive the filibuster rule on judicial nominees. Since Republicans now hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, Frist is confident he could win the vote despite strident opposition by Democrats and possible loss of some Republicans.

 

     Why are arcane Senate rules an issue for Sunday night worshipers?

 

     Rev. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, speaking in his home church, acknowledged, "This is not what we do most Sunday nights."

 

     "For too long, we have only been concerned about electing the right people to office," he said, and have ignored the third branch of government, the judiciary. In the 1973 Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, Justice Blackman acknowledged later that there "was nothing in the Constitution about abortion" though the court discerned "a right to kill unborn children," Mohler argued.

 

     "Fast forward to the 2003 case, Lawrence Vs. Texas, in which the Supreme Court struck down every sodomy law in the U.S. They found a Constitutional right to sodomy. It is not there, but they read into the Constitution what they wanted to find. In his dissent, Justice Scalia warned that this court is ready to legalize same sex marriage.

 

     "Therefore, we have to exercise our Christian citizenship. We have to follow through on the process of nominating and confirming judges. Religious liberty is really what is at stake."

 

     However, not far from Mohler's church, 1,200 liberal Christians gathered at a

Presbyterian church to hear Rev. Jim Wallis, denounce the Justice Sunday broadcast, as a "declaration of religious war," and "an attempt to hijack religion."

 

     Various political groups on the left are airing TV ads in opposition to the religious right's stance on the filibuster issue. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, for example, denounced "the radical right leaders who suggest that you can't be a good Christian unless you share their political views. We need to seek bipartisan cooperation not inflame political divisions with religious manipulation."

 

     However, in the broadcast, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, asserted, "We are not saying that people who disagree with us are not people of faith."

 

     He added, "We are not asking the Senate to vote for or against a particular nominee, but to allow a vote for or against. Just because some nominees have deeply held personal beliefs should not disqualify them from being voted upon."

 

     Judge Charles Pickering, one of the ten Bush nominees to an Appeals Court, who was filibustered, noted that "During the history of the Senate, not one nominee was denied a vote by a filibuster prior to the George Bush nominees."

 

     That is correct. Bob Dole, former majority leader of the Senate, recalls that though he voted against some of President Clinton's nominees, he did not use a filibuster to block a vote.

 

     Sensing a likely Republican victory, some Democratic Senators are now offering to compromise, to allow some Bush nominees to be voted upon, while opposing others.

 

     That may seem reasonable, until one realizes that what is at stake is not just nominees to Federal Appeals Courts, but whether the President will be able to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

 

     It is time to break the filibuster rule. 

 

     "If the secular left is worried, they should be worried," snapped Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on the Justice Sunday broadcast.

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