Halloween Comes Early: Congressional Hearing Will Showcase Religious Right Scare Tactics

[Bishop William Lori] will try to scare the subcommittee into thinking that his church’s entire belief system is under attack in an effort to get Congress to write overly broad exemptions from many laws for religious organizations.

It seems that some Republicans in the House of Representatives are awfully worried about government infringing on the liberties of the Religious Right, so the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution has called for a hearing today on “The State of Religious Liberty in the United States.”

The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), founder of the Arizona Family Research Institute, an affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. The subcommittee invited three witnesses to testify: Bridgeport (Conn.) Bishop William Lori; Colby May of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice; and Americans United’s own executive director, Barry W. Lynn.

Even though the hearing isn’t for several hours, I have a pretty good idea of how it will go. Lori, who is the head of a new U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops task force, will tell the committee that religious liberties are under attack for many reasons, including the government asking private health insurers to cover contraception and the Justice Department's decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. He will try to scare the subcommittee into thinking that his church’s entire belief system is under attack in an effort to get Congress to write overly broad exemptions from many laws for religious organizations.

Robertson attorney Colby May is likely to take a similar tack, insisting that the religious liberty rights of fundamentalist Christians are in danger.

AU’s Lynn, on the other hand, will do his best to debunk the statements from Lori and May. The full text of Lynn’s remarks will be available later today, but Lynn is going to say that religious minorities and nonbelievers are the ones who face serious threats to their liberties in the United States, while religious majorities have little to fear. He will warn Congress not to be swayed by Lori’s horror stories and he will encourage the government to stay away from matters of theology.

“Government -- big, small or in-between -- works best when it does not embrace or repudiate particular faiths or religion in general, but rather is scrupulously neutral on that one area of life where the Constitution gives it no role under any circumstance: theological truth,” Lynn will say.

As for the subcommittee, the Republicans will nod along like bobble heads with Lori, then use their time to attack Obama administration policies and try to scare us into believing that the Religious Right really is under attack and that its basic liberties are being taken away.

In the words of tennis legend John McEnroe: they cannot be serious. Unfortunately, however, they are. As I observed at the Values Voter Summit a few weeks ago, evangelicals and other Religious Right zealots believe that we live in a pivotal moment in history with nothing less than the future viability of the United States at stake. Between legalized abortion and gay marriage, they think their way of life is under attack and that immediate action must be taken to save civilization as they know it from the over-reaching hand of the big, bad government.

Unfortunately, some in Congress agree with this strange worldview, and we can only hope that Lynn’s words talk some sense into at least a few of them.

If you are interested in watching the hearing, I understand that it can be viewed online here through the House Judiciary Committee’s website.