June 2004 Church & State | People & Events

Karl Rove, top political adviser to President George W. Bush, undertook an unusual assignment May 8: He traveled to Lynchburg, Va., and delivered a commencement address at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

An April 6 press release from Liberty announcing Rove's selection quoted an enthusiastic Falwell.

"I have known Karl Rove for many years and I am greatly impressed with his wisdom, dedication to President Bush and his love for Jesus Christ," said Falwell.

The release went on to talk less about Rove's religion and more about his political pedigree. It noted that Rove leads the Bush re-election effort, has helped elect Republican candidates nationwide and that a magazine had credited him with "one of the great tectonic political shifts in American history, the Republican­i­zation of Texas."

In fact, Rove has never been known for his piety. Wayne Slater, coauthor of a book on Rove called Bush's Brain, told National Public Radio April 29 that Rove "is really not actively evangelical at all."

Rove, however, does have a keen understanding of the importance of the Religious Right to the GOP. One year into the Bush presidency, Rove told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that Bush expected 19 million votes from white evangelical Protestants but got only 15 million. Rove has vowed to increase that number this year.

Rove's appearance at Liberty may have been part of that strategy. To make sure no federal laws were broken, Americans United warned Falwell and Rove that the commencement should not be turned into a Bush re-election rally. (The IRS Code flatly bars churches and other tax-exempt entities from partisan electioneering.)

The pair apparently took that advice to heart. The Lynchburg News & Advance reported May 9 that Rove's 15-minute speech was non-partisan. Noted the newspaper, "Rove and Falwell did not make blanket endorsements for Bush's re-election." Rove did say he is proud to work for Bush and reminded graduates to vote in November – but he did not advise them who to vote for.

According to the News & Advance, Rove offered mostly platitudes about pursuing goals and working hard. He also offered some advice for the soon-to-be job seekers: dump the facial piercings and pay off your debts.

"The most powerful force in the world created by man may be nuclear power, but it is followed closely by compound interest," Rove said. "So pay off your credit cards every month in full and save as much as you can as early as you can."

Rove's advice, especially about facial piercings, might have struck some in the audience as a bit odd and probably would have been more relevant on another campus. The Liberty Way, Liberty Univer­sity's student guidebook, states flatly that for male students, "Earrings and/or plugs are not permitted on or off campus, nor is body piercing." The same restrictions apply to women, with an exception for earrings.

In other news about the Religious Right:

The Justice Department has hired a 39-year-old Religious Right attorney and charged him with the task of advancing an anti-separationist agenda in the courts.

Eric W. Treene's June 2002 hiring was "kept under the radar...possibly to avoid more attacks on the Justice Department known for its in-house Bible studies conducted by Attorney General John Ashcroft," the conservative Wash­ing­ton Times reported May 6.

Treene, a former attorney at the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is already making an impact. Last year he brought the whole weight of the department down on a Texas Tech University biology professor, Michael Dini, who said he would not give letters of recommendation to students unless they affirmed a belief in evolution. Under pressure from Treene, Dini agreed to modify the policy.

A former Christian Coalition field director in Colorado has been arrested and charged with theft. Martin Andrew Nalitz of Littleton is accused of bilking people in a home-mortgage scam. According to the Denver Post, Nalitz allegedly agreed to make mortgage loans on behalf of a firm called Easy Street Properties but then kept the money, using some of it to write checks to himself.

The newspaper reported that Nalitz did organizing work for the Christian Coalition in the mid 1990s and also hosted a show on a local talk-radio station. Sam Kimbreil, owner of Easy Street Properties, said Nalitz played on his Christian beliefs, arguing that the mortgage loans would help poor people keep their homes.