April 30, 2005
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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.