Americans United's release of a closed-door recording of top congressional leaders Tom DeLay and Bill Frist kowtowing to the Religious Right has generated significant media interest - and is helping Americans understand the threat theocratic extremists pose to our freedoms.
The recording made the front page of Tuesday's New York Times, and excerpts were played in following days on "The CBS Evening News," ABC's "Nightline," and CNN's "Inside Politics." It has been in near-constant rotation on the Air America radio network, has been the subject of dozens of news stories and made the blog circuit.
Senate Majority Leader Frist and House Majority Leader DeLay offered the remarks during a Family Research Council (FRC) gathering March 17-18 at Washington, D.C.'s Willard Hotel. The pair plotted strategy and talked about a range of political promises, using Mrs. Terri Schiavo's case as a springboard.
DeLay's manipulation of the Schiavo tragedy to camouflage his ethics problems struck a nerve with several syndicated columnists, who blasted the Texas Republican for exploiting the situation.
Wrote Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, "Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy."
Making note of DeLay's comment to the FRC, Dowd continued, "He said that God has brought Terri Schiavo's struggle to the forefront 'to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America.' He defined that as 'attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others.' So it's not about her crisis at all. It's about his crisis."
Syndicated columnist Harold Meyerson blasted DeLay for his remarks and speculated that the Religious Right and its congressional allies had overreached.
"In their haste to curry favor with the Christian right, the Republican leaders have run roughshod over some very deeply rooted American - and conservative - beliefs," Meyerson wrote. "Americans tend to believe in their doctors, and in the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship. They believe in spheres of privacy where the state cannot intrude. There's no more distinctly American belief than the right to be left alone by government. Liberals and conservatives differ over which great causes compel a suspension of that right, but both sides of the spectrum acknowledge it axiomatically."
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin Most slammed Congress for "cynically capitalizing" on the Schiavo case and asserted that "mosthorrifying of all was the disgraced and disgraceful Tom DeLay, whose mind-boggling addressto a conservative family forum in Washington on Friday set the stage for Congress' Palm Sunday stampede of state's rights and the rule of law. A tape recording of it was obtained by Americans United for Separation of Church and State."
Marin, recounting her own family's wrenching decision to disconnect their dying father from life support, wrote, "[W]hat happened in Washington this weekend deserves neither honor nor respect. It was a raw grab at a personaltragedy for political gain."
Through their intervention in the Schiavo case, congressional leaders and President George W. Bush brazenly bucked the tide of public opinion in an effort to placate the Religious Right.
Although the comments about Schiavo captured most of the media attention, the rest of the tape is even more alarming. (The entire recording can be heard on this site.) Frist and DeLay have essentially promised the Religious Right the store, vowing to give them a Federal Marriage Amendment, a law permitting church-based electioneering, new curbs on abortion and a federal judiciary stacked with far-right judges.
In light of the tape, Americans who value their liberties need to stand and up and be counted in the days to come.