March 2001 Church & State | People & Events

Top Bush Aide Assures Religious Right About White House Agenda

President George W. Bush has moved quickly to reassure the Religious Right that he will promote its agenda during his term in office.

Donald Lambro, chief political reporter for The Washington Times, an ultra-conservative daily, reported Jan. 18 that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, has met quietly with Religious Right activists and other right-wing leaders in the nation's capital.

Rove told the attendees at the closed-door gathering Jan. 10 that Bush will govern as "a philosophically driven president who is a conservative" and that he will not hesitate to promote his agenda, despite the closeness of the election.

The meeting was hosted by Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich, a longtime far-right strategist who helped create the Moral Majority. After the gathering, Weyrich indicated to The Times that he was pleased with what he heard.

Weyrich reportedly told Rove, "Sometimes we are going to disagree, but it's quite evident from what you've said here today that we are going to agree 80 percent of the time."

Rove advised the right-wing leaders that Bush has asked the Heritage Foundation, a large far-right think tank, to review all of the executive orders put in place by President Bill Clinton during his eight years in office and recommend which ones should be overturned. A Heritage staffer told Lambro that the group has already forwarded its recommendations to the White House.

During the meeting, Rove cautioned the Religious Right not to expect too much too soon. Lambro reported that Rove "said they must give Mr. Bush time to get his people and policies in place. He urged patience as the Bush administration sets about to overturn eight years of Democratic policy and personnel."

Some political observers believe Bush is trying to maintain a moderate image with the general public, while working behind the scenes on behalf of the Religious Right. One conservative activist has asserted that Religious Right activists are so ingrained in the GOP that there is no longer a reason to think of them as a separate constituency.

"Going back eight or 10 years, social conservatives were almost in their own ghetto," Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told the evangelical newsmagazine World recently. "They're less visible now because they're everywhere."

Continued Norquist, "The good news is that when groups like the Christian Coalition aren't as prominent, the people who might normally be running a local Coalition chapter are now working as party chairmen or campaign directors...The center-right coalition is more comfortable with the issues raised by social conservatives, and this president is more comfortable with their concerns than Reagan was. Is the social conservative movement stronger than it used to be? Yeah. They're insiders. Bush and his people talk to them regularly. They're seen as key allies. They've taken a tremendous step forward."

Bush moved quickly during his first week in the White House to placate the Religious Right on the issue of abortion. On Jan. 22, Bush's first working day in office and the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure, Bush issued an executive order ending all tax aid for private family planning groups that provide abortions overseas. The policy cuts off funding even if the abortions are paid for with private money.

The order reinstated by Bush is so strict it even bars population control groups from discussing abortion overseas. It is known as the "Mexico City Policy" because it was drafted by anti-abortion groups during a United Nations conference on population that took place in Mexico City in 1984. The restriction was originally put into effect by President Ronald Reagan but was lifted by President Clinton in 1992.

Observers say the Mexico City Policy denies vital services to women in developing nations and leads to overpopulation and its attendant ill effects. Leaders of Bush's own denomination were critical. In a letter to the president, Jim Winkler, head of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, wrote, "You have imposed on the poorest women of the world a halt to information that women in the United States are guaranteed."

Religious Right leaders were thrilled with the Bush inaugural itself. Bush's speech was studded with religious references. Southern Baptist Convention lobbyist Richard Land told World the address was the "most overtly religious speech in its tone of any inaugural address in living memory." The magazine said Bush's chief speechwriter is Michael Gerson, a graduate of evangelical Wheaton College.

Prayers at the inauguration also reflected an exclusively Christian bent. The invocation, offered by Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, contained numerous references to "Lord" and concluded "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." He prayed that Bush would "say no to all that is contrary to your statutes of holy law."

The benediction, offered by the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, called for "divine favor" upon "the Bush team and all Americans" and ended, "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus Christ. Let all who agree say, 'Amen.'"

Iran Needs Separation Of Mosque And State, Rights Activist Says

A human rights activist who was jailed and tortured in Iran for opposing that nation's faith-based regime says only separation of religion and government can save the country.

Monireh Baradaran was imprisoned at age 24 for her activities with a group opposed to the harsh Islamic rule of former Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She spent nine years behind bars where she endured various forms of torture. In her book The Simple Truth, Baradaran writes about being flogged with cables and forced to sit upright, blindfolded, for hours at a time over a period of 10 months. "The only thing we heard were Koranic verses sometimes or the taped breakdowns of other prisoners who fell apart and lost their balance," she told a meeting of the Alliance for Defense of Human Rights in Iran, a Washington-based group, last month.

Baradaran added, "The mix of state and religion in modern Iran provides the Islamic Republic with the pretext for the most violent forms of political suppression in the name of religion. What is happening in Iran today is in the context of crimes against humanity."

Later, in an interview with The Washington Post, Baradaran noted that a prominent cleric, Yousefi Eshkevari, is currently on trial in Iran, charged with espousing atheism. She added, "The only option remains the separation of church and state."

Baradaran has been granted political asylum and now lives in Germany.

In related news, a new book by Khomeini's former deputy charges that more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in Iran in 1988 in a bloody purge of the country's prisons.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri charges in his recently published memoirs that children as young as 13 were hanged from cranes during the two-month purge. According to Montazeri, so many people were sentenced to death that they had to be loaded onto forklift trucks in groups of six and hanged from the cranes in half hour intervals.

Montazeri, once considered Khomeini's successor, broke with him and is now under house arrest in the Iranian city of Qom. His privately published book has been suppressed in Iran, but copies were smuggled out and reached the West. It includes a decree from Khomeini declaring that all members of the Mojahedin, an opposition movement, were to be killed.

Decisions on what to do with suspected Mojahedin were left to three-member "death committees," consisting of an Islamic judge, a Ministry of Intelligence official and a prosecutor. Prisoners were given a final chance to renounce the Mojahedin before being sentenced to death.

Ashcroft Confirmed As Attorney General, Despite Radical Record

Controversial attorney general nominee John D. Ashcroft won Senate confirmation Feb. 1 in a narrow vote that split largely along partisan lines.

Ashcroft, a former U.S. senator, came under fire from civil liberties organizations and their allies for his far-right views and poor record on church-state issues. As a senator, Ashcroft was the architect of "charitable choice," a concept that calls for giving churches tax money to provide social services. He has also been harshly critical of the Supreme Court's decisions upholding church-state separation.

Despite bitter controversy, Ashcroft was confirmed 58-42, with eight Senate Democrats joining all Republicans voting in his favor. (The dissenting Democrats were John Breaux [La.], Robert Byrd [W.Va.], Kent Conrad [N.D.], Byron Dorgan [N.D.], Zell Miller [Ga.], Chris Dodd [Conn.], Russ Feingold [Wisc.] and Ben Nelson [Neb.].)

Democratic leaders in the Senate were pleased by the vote, pointing out that it was two more than 40, the number needed to sustain a filibuster. They vowed to use filibusters to block future Bush appointees to the Supreme Court if they are too far outside the mainstream.

"We'll cooperate when they're from the center," said Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Senate minority leader. "But we're going to be very concerned when they're from the far right."

Americans United joined the effort to oppose Ashcroft's nomination. On Jan. 16 AU submitted testimony to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, expressing the organization's concerns about the nominee's record.

AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn reminded the senators that Ashcroft once attacked the Supreme Court for its church-state rulings, calling the justices "a robed elite" that has turned the wall of separation between church and state into "a wall of oppression."

Stated Lynn, "Ashcroft's characterization of the Supreme Court as a 'robed elite' shows a lack of respect unbefitting a candidate for Attorney General. It is a phrase more commonly associated with religious extremists and anti-government militias than our nation's chief law enforcer and protector of civil rights and liberties."

Elsewhere in the testimony Lynn asserted, "Sen. Ashcroft's disregard for our constitutional separation of church and state and his attacks on the Supreme Court raise serious questions about his fitness to hold the office of attorney general. In that office, he would be expected to uphold the religious neutrality of the public schools and protect the rights of religious minorities. Given his poor record and dismissive statements about the U.S. Supreme Court's religious liberty cases, it is extremely doubtful he could fairly enforce these standards as U.S. Attorney General."

James Dunn, a Baptist minister and former member of the Americans United Board of Trustees, also advised the committee to vote against Ashcroft. In testimony delivered before the committee Jan. 19, Dunn charged that Ashcroft's record demonstrates that he is "unqualified and unreliable." Ashcroft, Dunn said, has "amply demonstrated that he does not understand the first freedom."

Noted Dunn, "Either he has a blind spot, a lapse or he's one of those who would intentionally destroy the separation of church and state as we have known it in this country."

Dunn, formerly executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., is currently serving as a visiting professor of Christianity and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

Religious Right Joins Rev. Moon At Pro-Bush Inaugural Luncheon

Top leaders of the Religious Right, including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President James Merritt, were among the crowd at a Jan. 19 "Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal" sponsored by an arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

The Washington, D.C., event was put on by The Washington Times Foundation, a non-profit group founded by Moon. The controversial Korean evangelist, who preaches that he is the new messiah sent by God to complete the failed mission of Jesus, spoke at the event and received an award for his work in support of family values, the Moon-owned Washington Times reported.

The Rev. Billy McCormack, a Christian Coalition board member and long-time Religious Right activist from Louisiana, assisted in presenting Moon with the award.

Other attendees at the event included TV preachers Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuller, Kenneth Copeland and Paul Crouch as well as Don Argue, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Former pop star Pat Boone provided entertainment.

Two Bush administration nominees attended the luncheon as well Stephen Goldsmith, the former Indianapolis mayor who will promote "charitable choice" initiatives, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Goldsmith touted the Bush plan to give churches federal funds to offer social services.

  "All of us here want the government to no longer be hostile [to religion]," Goldsmith said. "This is an administration that will clear out the regulation problems, clear out the legal problems."

  Observed Goldsmith, "I think that the best thing that America has to face is a person who is about to become president who truly believes in God and believes in the power of God to make the lives of people better."

Aside from Merritt, other SBC officials attending the event included Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Morris H. Chapman and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land. Other prominent Southern Baptists attended, among them Paul Pressler of Houston, Pastor Ed Young of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Pastor Jack Graham from Prestonwood Baptist Church near Dallas and Pastor Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif.

Some of the Baptist leaders later claimed they had no idea the luncheon was sponsored by Moon and were clearly embarrassed by their participation in an event advancing the agenda of the self-proclaimed new messiah.

"I was shocked to see that Sun Myung Moon was on the program and in essence the host," Chapman told the Baptist Press News Service. "I was even more surprised on the way out of the banquet hall to be given a propaganda book on the Unification Church."

Merritt noted that his invitation came from Doug Wead, an evangelical who worked in the White House under President George Bush in the early 1990s. "We knew that it was going to be an interdenominational event, but we had no idea that the luncheon was hosted by Moonies," said Merritt. He added, "I didn't even see the program until I got there. I had no idea this was the nature of the meeting. I believe this incident will teach us to be a little more judicious."

Chapman said the experience taught him to be more careful. "[It] will serve to remind evangelical Christians that the world increasingly is filled with wolves in sheep's clothing."

Moon uses events like the inaugural luncheon to increase his own prestige in the religious community. A brief report about the luncheon on the Unification church's website speaks approvingly of Moon's ability to draw a broad cross-section of religious leaders to his events, asserting that the gathering "united Christian leaders black and white, including Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, a representative of the Billy Graham organization, and many others."

Critics say Moon's ultimate goal is a merger of the world's religions under Moon and his elevation as the supreme head of a unified theocratic state. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, in an article published in Unification News in September of 1992, declared themselves "the True Parents of all humanity" and asserted, "[W]e are the Savior, the Lord of the Second Advent, the Messiah....[W]e must have an automatic theocracy to rule the world."

In March of 1989, U.S. News & World Report noted that Moon has stated that his aims include the "subjugation of the American government and population."

There are signs that Moon is growing weary of the resistance to his message in the United States and that he may be ready to adopt a more militant approach. Two days after the luncheon, Moon gave a sermon at Irvington, N.Y. Although the message was delivered in Korean, it was translated and notes were posted on the church website. According to the notes, Moon again stressed that Jesus failed to redeem humanity and asserted that only "Father" (Moon) can save mankind.

"A few days ago, we held the Inaugural Prayer Luncheon in Washington, DC," said Moon. "A top US official said he was busy. That was a mistake: he should have come. If Father turns his back on him that is no good. Don't be proud of your secular career. In places such as Harvard or Yale, ninety percent of the people don't know God. They're the ones who insist that God is dead. They tried to oppose Father, but ultimately they surrendered. It is time for us to march forward. Father wonders if we're qualified. As young soldiers, we should have absolute confidence to do as God asks. We should have conviction to march forward with God's sovereignty. Until now, Father worked as if God was in prison. Everyone opposed Father, but Father did not fall down.

Continued Moon, "Father is proclaiming to the world to go and receive God's sovereignty. Who is God? He is our Eternal Parents. Now, we connect to the sovereignty. True love power is there. Now, we are welcomed on all four corners of the world. There should be no boundaries. If we stick with the American way of doing things, there is no hope for America: no hope, no country, no Heaven."

In other news about Moon:

Former Vice President Dan Quayle appeared at a Moon-sponsored conference on families that culminated with a mass wedding of more than 200 couples. The January 27 event took place at the United Nations and was called a "world peace blessing" by Moon and his followers.

Joining Quayle at the forum was Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland.

Fla. Hospital Drops Catholic Controls To Stop AU Lawsuit

A non-profit hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., that operates on city-owned property has agreed to end its partnership with Roman Catholic medical centers in the area and drop restrictive church doctrines covering issues like abortion and birth control.

Bayfront Medical Center became the target of a lawsuit by Americans United and allied groups last year when, in an attempt to solve financial woes, it entered into an alliance with several Catholic hospitals called the BayCare Health System. BayCare officials demanded that Bayfront adopt a series of Catholic health care directives that ban all abortion, forbid distribution or discussion of contraceptives and institute Catholic rules concerning end of life issues. (See "Emergency!," October 2000 Church & State.)

Formerly a city-owned institution, Bayfront is now run by a private, non-profit group but pays an annual $10 lease to the city. In return, the hospital is expected to operate in the public interest and offer care regardless of "sex, race, color or creed."

To join the Catholic alliance, Bayfront had to agree to ban elective abortions. Hospital officials were not upfront about the condition, and several city officials were furious when the details of the deal leaked out through reports in the local media. City officials accused Bayfront of violating the conditions of its lease and filed a lawsuit. Americans United, the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida filed a separate suit, charging a violation of church-state separation.

The parting did not occur smoothly. Bayfront was forcibly voted out of the BayCare alliance by the other hospitals in the group, which cited Bayfront's inability to come to an agreement with the city as the reason for the split.

Bayfront officials later certified in federal court that they have removed all religious control over the hospital and that specifically they have dropped the Ethical and Religious Directives promulgated by the Catholic Church. The hospital's board of directors then voted to reinstate the institution's old policy on abortions, which puts the decision in the hands of the patient and her doctor.

"We are back to where we were when we came in," Bayfront board chairman Larry Davis told the St. Petersburg Times. "The physician can do whatever he thinks is necessary for the patient."

Americans United and its allies agreed to drop the National Organization for Women v. Bayfront Medical Center, Inc. lawsuit when Bayfront announced it was leaving the Catholic alliance. Local activists continue to monitor the situation. They say they are worried that the city may allow the sale of Bayfront to another private entity, which will reinstate the restrictive policies.

But officials at Bayfront say another sale may not be necessary. They say the hospital's financial outlook is better these days, although they indicated that they may need more support from the city in the future.

Experts who monitor mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals say the church-state separation issue was a compelling reason for the split. "This is the first case I know of in which the separation of church and state issues have been raised so clearly," said Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, a NewYork organization that tracks hospital mergers.

Corrections And Clarifications

The February 2001 Church & State reported that Pope John Paul II received the Congressional Medal of Honor on Jan. 8. In fact, he received the Congressional Gold Medal.

The story about John Ashcroft in the February issue contained a reference to a far-right organization called Citizen Soldier. This organization, based in Virginia, should not be confused with a New York City-based group also called Citizen Soldier. The New York organization, founded in 1975, is a progressive social justice group. Church & State regrets any confusion this may have caused.