On both sides of the political aisle now, you hear the same dumb question: “What’s wrong with putting religion into government?” This has to be in the Top Ten List of the Stoopidest Questions of All Time. It may be Number 1.
The argument, such as it is, goes that one’s faith, as expressed by religion, makes one a better, more humane, more thoughtful, more generous, more forgiving, etc etc etc person who will bring those fine qualities to govt where they will do some good. In the eyes of many people, having politicians and govt officials bring their religion into a central decision-making role can only be positive. Even moderates and centrists initially supported Bush’s program to ladle out govt contracts – and therefore public tax money – to faith-based organizations for any number of social functions, from rehabilitating criminals to combatting teen pregnancy. What harm could it do? they wondered.
The problem here is that virtually all religious folk see their faith as exclusively positive. In theory, that’s true of almost all religions – they all preach brotherhood, tolerance, respect, charity, and peace – but in practice, any institutionalized religion can be turned into an instrument of intolerance, meanness, sanctomonius arrogance, and/or authoritarian rigidity, any one of which characteristics can – and usually does – devolve fairly quickly into a warlike antipathy toward infidels and unbelievers.
The framers of the Constitution knew this, even though they were religious themselves (sort of – they were primarily Enlightenment Deists, which is kind of a religion and kind of not a religion). They had reason to: they had seen what happened to Britain when the monarchy allied itself with the CofE to create a state-sponsored, state-enforced religion. Wisely, they wanted no part of it, thus the Establishment Clause.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The Establishment Clause has been interpreted by various Supreme Court decisions as forbidding the US govt from actively supporting a single religion or denomination, thus separating religion from law. In his letter to the Baptist Church of Danbury, CT, Jefferson (then President) explained:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
To make a long story short, the letter was written in response to a concern expressed by the leadership of the Danbury Baptist Church that “in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature – as ‘favors granted.'” At the time there was a movement by so-called “Establishment Religionists” to declare a state religion in Connecticut – an early attempt at legalizing a theocracy at the state level. The Baptists were worried because theirs wasn’t the religion that would be picked – that honor would go to the Congregationalists – and they were afraid that it would be outlawed.
As, indeed, it might well have been if the Connecticut legislature had gone along with the Establishmentarians, but it didn’t. The movement never gained much political traction and died out in only a few years, but the Baptists were right to be concerned. They were a distinct minority in Congregationalist New England, and the establishment of a state religion would make them criminals, subject to fines and possibly either jail or banishment from the state. Certainly their form of worship would be banned at the very least. Worse, laws could be passed demanding their adherence to practices they considered to be forbidden by their faith.
And therein lies the connection between Jefferson’s famous phrase and the supporting cast of the US Attorney controversy now raging.
Goodling, Rove, and Regent University
With the depredations of the CofE-inspired English law as a reference point, the Framers realized quite clearly that American law needed to be secular. If Oliver Cromwell proved nothing else, he had proved that. A state-sponsored religion in the US would have made a similar religious war almost inevitable (Jefferson already suspected that the issue of slavery would be the catalyst) and the only way they could see to avoid confrontations was to have the law treat all religions – and all people -equally, or at least to enshrine that ideal into the foundations of our laws as their ultimate goal.
To date, we have been reasonably successful, but now along comes the Bush/Rove Adminstration and suddenly one’s adherence to fundamentalist Xtian dogma becomes part of the litmus test for legal appointments.
- When Karl Rove arranged Bush’s selection of Supreme Court nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, he did so on only two grounds: 1) they were avid Bush loyalists, and 2) they were fervent Xtian fundamentalists.
- When Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Court, he explicitly credited her fundamentalist religion as his primary reason.
President Bush suggested Wednesday that Harriet Miers’ evangelical Christian beliefs were part of the reason he nominated her to the Supreme Court. But later a White House spokesman said her religion played no role in her selection.
“People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,” Bush told reporters at the White House. “They want to know Harriet Miers’ background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions.”
- Rove also pushed conservative Catholic Alberto Gonzales to commit $millions$ in DoJ resources to the Freedom Project – a DoJ program aimed at “preserving religious liberty“. (Link via mojoey at Deep Thoughts)
Conventional wisdom holds that Rove put all this emphasis on fundamentalist Xtianity being an integral part of legal appointments just because he wanted to make sure Bush didn’t lose his religious-right supporting base –
Under the direction of Rove, religion is not just part of the political strategy for Republicans, Smith said, it’s the core strategy. He said that Rove’s view is “to do whatever it takes to win,” and that means delivering the base, getting four million additional religious conservatives to the polls in November. He said that the first President Bush had failed to solidify that base and that Rove wants to ensure that the second President Bush receives a very high percentage of that vote.
– but the time, energy and money put into the Freedom Project shows a very different agenda at work. What the Freedom Project embodies is the Rove/Ashcroft/Gonzales agenda: turning the Civil Rights Division of Justice into the legal arm of Xtian fundamentalism.
[T]he Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice enforces a wide range of laws protecting religious liberty: laws barring discrimination based on religion in employment, public education, housing, credit, and access to public facilities and public accommodations; laws barring zoning authorities from discriminating against houses of worship and religious schools; laws protecting the religious rights of institutionalized persons; and criminal statutes such as the Church Arson Prevention Act making it a federal crime to attack persons or institutions based on their religion, or otherwise interfere with religious exercise.As detailed in the report, from 2001 to 2006 the Department of Justice dramatically increased enforcement of these laws.
But as the Rude One notes, most of that impressive list is missing from the case files.
If you search the document, you find not one instance of discrimination against atheists or the non-religious (indeed, the words “atheist” and “atheism” do not appear in the report); just bunches and bunches of cases where the government has used your tax dollars to defend one church or another.
He should have said, to be accurate, “one Christian church or another”.
One of the elements of the Gonzo 8 controversy that isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it should is the way it has shown how Rove and Gonzales stacked the DoJ with fundamentalists antagonistic to church-state separation.
Let’s begin with Monica Goodling and her connection to Pat Robertson’s Regent University law school.
Regent has had no better friend than the Bush administration. Graduates of the law school have been among the most influential of the more than 150 Regent University alumni hired to federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001, according to a university website.
One of those graduates is Monica Goodling , the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who is at the center of the storm over the firing of US attorneys. Goodling, who resigned on Friday, has become the face of Regent overnight — and drawn a harsh spotlight to the administration’s hiring of officials educated at smaller, conservative schools with sometimes marginal academic reputations.
Documents show that Goodling, who has asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress, was one of a handful of officials overseeing the firings. She helped install Timothy Griffin , the Karl Rove aide and her former boss at the Republican National Committee, as a replacement US attorney in Arkansas.
So how did Goodling, who graduated in ’99 and has no prosecutorial experience to speak of, get to hold such an exalted position? This is how:
[I]n 2001, the Bush administration picked the dean of Regent’s government school, Kay Coles James , to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management — essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. The doors of opportunity for government jobs were thrown open to Regent alumni.
James has been using her unique position to install people like Goodling in the heart of the Bush Admin, especially the DoJ, concentrating the budding new Xtian lawyers in the Civil Rights Div and as aides in the top levels at Justice, all no doubt with Karl’s blessing if not on his orders. She began 5 years ago when John Ashcroft – another fundie – was AG.
[I]n late 2002…John Ashcroft, then attorney general, changed longstanding rules for hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the career ranks.
Previously, veteran civil servants screened applicants and recommended whom to hire, usually picking top students from elite schools.
In a recent Regent law school newsletter, a 2004 graduate described being interviewed for a job as a trial attorney at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in October 2003. Asked to name the Supreme Court decision from the past 20 years with which he most disagreed, he cited Lawrence v. Texas, the ruling striking down a law against sodomy because it violated gay people’s civil rights.
“When one of the interviewers agreed and said that decision in Lawrence was ‘maddening,’ I knew I correctly answered the question,” wrote the Regent graduate . The administration hired him for the Civil Rights Division’s housing section — the only employment offer he received after graduation, he said.
The graduate from Regent — which is ranked a “tier four” school by US News & World Report, the lowest score and essentially a tie for 136th place — was not the only lawyer with modest credentials to be hired by the Civil Rights Division after the administration imposed greater political control over career hiring.
The changes resulted in a sometimes dramatic alteration to the profile of new hires beginning in 2003, as the Globe reported last year after obtaining resumes from 2001-2006 to three sections in the civil rights division. Conservative credentials rose, while prior experience in civil rights law and the average ranking of the law school attended by the applicant dropped.
Regent’s avowed “mission” is “integrating the Bible with public policy”. In other words, erasing the line separating church and state. In other other words, to prepare the legal ground for the creation of a theocracy, Robertson’s long-time goal.
It is Robertson’s theocratic vision that ties all these elements together, even Rove’s determination to make the US a one-party nation – Democrats would never, whatever their other failings, co-operate in an open challenge to the SOCAS doctrine. Only a permanent Republican majority with all power in their hands could bring that about.
During the 6 years they had that power, Bush and Rove and Gonzales (and Ashcroft, who now teaches a course on “Human Rights, Civil Liberties, and National Security” at Regent) all conspired to stuff the DoJ with fundamentalist Xtian lawyers dedicated to overturning SOCAS, and then changed the entire focus of the Civil Rights Div away from civil rights and onto protecting Xtian churches from charges of illegal interference in the political process – an absolute necessity if they were to achieve their goal.
At the bottom of the unconscionable politicization of the DoJ and the court system lies a nasty little secret: it’s all about creating a fundamentalist Xtian theocratic state out of the secular US by using our own laws and legal system against us.