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Church & State Magazine, May 2005 issue

 


Family Ties - Top Congressional Leaders Promise Action On Religious Right Agenda At The Family Research Council's Closed-Door Washington Briefing

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has a carefully cultivated public image as a moderate conservative
with a non-ideological bent.  The clean-cut Tennessee doctor comes across as a pragmatic public official who steers pretty close to the political center.  But behind closed doors at the Family Research Council's "Washington Briefing" in March, Frist sounded a lot like Jerry Falwell, praising his Religious Right audience and launching into a litany of Religious Right goals he hopes to accomplish.  Speaking by telephone to the crowd of 300 activists gathered at the Willard Hotel, the top congressional leader
promised to try to rein in "activist judges," pass laws restricting reproductive rights, amend the
Constitution to block gay people [and polyamorists] from marriage [etc. ...].  Frist's remarks are just
one indication of the extraordinary power that the Religious Right wields today in Washington, D.C.  In
addition to the Senate majority leader, others appearing at the three-day conference included House
Majority Leader Tom Delay, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), U.S. Rep Bobby Jindal (R-La.), newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin [he's in charge of censoring TV and radio] [etc. ...].  But despite this show of mainstream political influence, the Washington briefing also featured an array of speakers who outlined a chilling portrait of an American future where civil and religious liberties are sacrificed on the altar of fundamentalist Christian power.  These activists want to scrap the concept of an independent judiciary, ban all abortions by law, deny gay people legal protections, make divorce more difficult to obtain and make adultery a punishable offense.

But most of all, they seek to overturn church-state separation, making America an officially "Christian
nation."  To do so, they hope to repeal the federal ban on church electioneering and create a church-based political machine that controls politics throughout the country.  This agenda may seem far out, but the FRC's friends in high places seem willing to help make it happen.  Frist told the gathering, "[Y]ou stand up for our children, you stand up for our families, you never back down.  That's why we are winning these larger battles today."  He also promised to coordinate with the FRC to ensure that a Senate vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment [banning gay and polyamorous marriage] is scheduled to achieve maximum influence at the polls.  "[...] We want to protect marriage from activist judges once and for all, and we will do it."  [...] Unlike the Tennessee senator, [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay is open about his close relationship with the Religious Right.  He has publicly blasted church-state separation as a concept that does not appear in the Constitution, and he says he makes his political decisions based on a "biblical worldview."  Speaking at the March 18 luncheon, the Texas Republican called for greater church involvement in politics, citing a House bill he supports that would revise the federal tax law ban on electioneering by tax-exempt groups and allow pulpit endorsements of political candidates.  [...]

While the FRC conference covered many issues, speakers returned time and again to their rage against a federal court system that ensures church-state separation, protects the rights of unpopular minorities and stands in the way of unfettered majority rule.  In an early morning session March 17, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and FRC's [President Tony] Perkins commiserated about the problem in a joint appearance on the briefing stage. Perkins said gaining control of the judiciary is now the organization's top priority, ahead of even the Federal Marriage Amendment.  He vowed to support Republican efforts to break a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and approve President George W. Bush's most controversial appellate court nominees.  "We're going to work as hard as we can to get that marriage amendment through," he said, "but the battle for this moment is over the judiciary.  So our top focus this year is breaking the filibuster, getting the confirmation of these [right-wing extremist] judges and fighting for these [right-wing extremist] replacements on the U.S. Supreme Court.  [...]  Perkins talked about various ways to undercut federal judges who are already on the bench.  He said he was at a meeting of the Republican House and Senate leadership the previous week and [...] options discussed at the GOP gathering included defunding the courts or limiting their jurisdiction. [...]  Although their organizations are tax exempt and supposedly nonpartisan, Dobson and Perkins indicated their willingness to play political hardball to get their way. Perkins listed senators who refused to toe the Religious Right line on judges and other social issues [... and] Dobson made a pitch for money from the crowd to take out newspaper ads to target these [U.S. Senators].  He said the advertisements were discussed at the FRC board meeting the day before the briefing. [...]  Gay people remain targets of the deepest hostility among FRC speakers.  FRC President Perkins railed against homosexual influence in society and warned darkly that "they are after our children." Perkins and company have used that kind of scare tactic to meld evangelical churches in many states into political machines. Ostensibly recruited to pass state-level marriage referenda that deny gays [and polyamorists] access to marriage, the church-based political coalitions can be turned to other issues as well as partisan ends, FRC strategists hope.

Former FRC president Gary Bauer, [...] who sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, [...] made
it clear that he wants to convert the Republican party into a vehicle totally committed to fundamentalist
Christian goals.  [...]  For Americans who care about religious freedom and church-state separation, it's
a deeply disturbing prospect.

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