Despite mounting criticism from mainstream religious voices and his Senate colleagues, Majority Leader Bill Frist lent his backing to a Sunday gathering of Religious Right extremists bent on destroying the independence of the federal courts.
"Justice Sunday," coordinated by the Family Research Council (FRC), was a judge-bashing fest, replete with over-the-top, overwrought rhetoric about American judges gone wild.
The FRC claims Senate Democrats, who have filibustered a handful of the Bush administration's federal court nominations, are discriminating against "people of faith." The April 24 event was conducted at a Southern Baptist mega-church in Louisville, Ky. and it was broadcast over Christian radio, web sites and satellite television. The performance included not only a taped video message from Frist, but also a string of prominent Christian conservatives who bemoaned pop culture and blamed federal judges for America's perceived societal ills.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and a member of FRC's board, was among the shrillest, decrying court rulings against government-sponsored religion in public schools and for reproductive rights and gay rights. Federal judges, Dobson roared, "are unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they're out of control."
Although Frist tried to sound much less hysterical, he again threatened to re-write Senate rules to do away with the filibuster and allow votes on judicial nominees with a bare majority. As it stands, 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster.
Frist said that if Democrats continue to block judicial nominations, "we will consider what opponents call the 'nuclear option.'" Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has argued that if the Republicans dump the filibuster, his party would take other parliamentary actions to grind much action in the Senate to a halt.
The FRC church event was deeply political. During the hour-and-a-half gathering, Dobson also railed against "six or eight squishy Republicans," The Washington Post reported, who may not support Frist's move to scrap the filibuster. The names and phone numbers of those politicians, including Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), scrolled across several of the mega-church's video screens.
Frist's participation in this event has put him in a controversial spot.
As the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Post, Frist may have again miscalculated by aligning himself with Religious Right activists bent on replacing democracy with theocracy. Lynn noted that Frist did the same thing during the Schiavo controversy, helping the Religious Right by engineering congressional intervention in that tragic family dispute.
"The people he's dealing with are not going to rest until there's a constitutional Armageddon in which the religious right controls all three branches of government," Lynn said.
Paul Weyrich, head of the ultraconservative Free Congress Foundation, had a different take. He told The Washington Times that Frist's presidential aspirations will be seriously undermined if Frist is unable to break the filibuster and ram through the Bush administration's growing list of extremist judges.
The Los Angeles Times, citing an audiotape provided to the paper by Americans United, noted that Dobson and Perkins called for a wide range of different strategies for attacking the federal courts during a closed-door event in Washington in March.
Impeachment is typically and traditionally the most oft-cited tool by rightists to do away with judges who issue unpopular rulings. But Dobson, during the March 17 event, which was attended by some 250 Religious Right lobbyists and included appearances by Frist And House Majority Tom DeLay, suggested that the federal courts should be stripped of funding.
"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise the court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."
Lynn told the Times Dobson's comments are bizarre and radical. And he could have added terribly unsettling.
The nation's Religious Right leaders are convinced now more than ever that they know what is best for us all, and they are very close to winning the power to implement that agenda. They are waging a war on the American Constitution, but to church-state separationists it's anything but a holy one.