Frist and His Allies Use Piety for Profit

Next Sunday, Bill Frist will illustrate the threat posed to traditional American values by the combined forces of the Republican Party leadership and religious fundamentalism. By lending the prestige of his office to a telecast from a Kentucky Baptist church that will mobilize “people of faith” behind his effort to outlaw the filibuster, the Senate Majority Leader continues his party’s destructive strategy of dividing the nation along religious lines and empowering the radical right.

This is a disturbing moment for Americans who wonder where Republican hegemony will take us. Senators and Congressional leaders utter threatening language, brandish weapons and sound as if they’re excusing violence against sitting judges. Ministers share the stage with demagogues who mutter Stalinist death threats against Supreme Court justices. “Conservatism” is becoming a radical ideology that discards constitutional balances for the pursuit of unchecked power.

On “Justice Sunday,” Mr. Frist will advance that ideology in a television feed sponsored by the Family Research Council and allied fundamentalist groups. His co-stars will include the evangelical broadcaster and author James C. Dobson, the born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson and Southern Baptist theologian R. Albert Mohler Jr.

In announcing this extravaganza, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council outlined the alleged grievances of his movement, which consists of people who believe they are Christians and anyone who disagrees with them-about anything-is not. According to him, the Democratic filibusters against a dozen of President Bush’s judicial nominees represent an ongoing assault by “radicals” on “people of faith.”

“Many of these nominees,” he writes, “are being blocked because they are people of faith and moral conviction. These are people whose only offense is to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

Clearly, Mr. Perkins has no compunctions about bearing false witness when that serves his political aims. As he well knows, the tiny percentage of blocked Bush nominees weren’t filibustered because of their religious faith, and the controversies surrounding them had little to do with abortion and nothing to do with gay marriage.

Consider Carolyn Kuhl of California, whose nomination was eventually withdrawn. Like many Bush nominees, she is a right-wing judicial activist who would seek to overturn most environmental and consumer protections in the name of property rights. During her stint in the Reagan Justice Department, Ms. Kuhl wrote a memo urging the government to reverse longstanding policy by renewing the federal tax exemption of the infamously bigoted Bob Jones University. As a judge in Los Angeles, she dismissed a lawsuit brought by a cancer patient whose doctor allowed her breast examination to be observed in his office-without her informed consent-by a drug-company salesman.

Or consider Priscilla Owen of Texas, a protégé of Bush political guru Karl Rove, whose decisions on the Texas Supreme Court tended to be most favorable to corporations that bankrolled her judicial campaigns, such as Enron and Dow Chemical. Alberto Gonzales, now serving as U.S. Attorney General, repeatedly criticized her extreme opinions when they were colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court.

These corporate servants in black robes were all too typical of the nominees sent up by the White House. It’s hard to understand how rejecting them offended any religious faith. And when Mr. Perkins implies that Democrats apply a religious test to the Bush nominees, he is lying about that, too.

Surely Mr. Perkins knows that the Senate has not hesitated to confirm ultra-conservative, faith-professing nominees. These include Timothy Tymkovich, the stridently anti-gay former Solicitor General of Colorado who argued against Medicaid funding of abortion even in cases of rape and incest; John Roberts, another committed abortion opponent who argued that public schools should be allowed to hold religious graduation ceremonies; and former Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher, who fought state funding for contraceptive services and likes to mention “the important role that God and Jesus Christ have played in my life.”

Addressing a National Right to Life convention in 2002, the year before he was elevated to the bench, Mr. Fisher said, “All of us are hoping and praying that the day will come under the leadership of George W. Bush that we’ll have a Supreme Court with justices who will leave [abortion] to the state to decide the legality of this issue by overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Although there were certainly reasons to object to those three nominees, including their ideologically rigid views on reproductive choice, none of them was stopped by filibuster. That option has been reserved for the least qualified and most extreme of the President’s nominees.

Mr. Perkins, Mr. Dobson and Mr. Frist are exploiting religion to advance an agenda that has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the Chamber of Commerce. Their mouths prattle incessantly about the Holy Spirit, yet their eyes are fixed on the golden calf.