Faith and the filibuster fight

April 22, 2005|By Melissa Rogers

I AM A CHURCHGOING, Bible-believing Baptist, but I recently learned that I'm not a Christian. Indeed, I've not only learned that I'm not a Christian, I've also learned that I'm anti-Christian and hostile to religion. Why? Because I dare to disagree with a certain political and legal agenda.

That's the message that is scheduled to be preached in a Kentucky church Sunday, at an event sponsored by the Family Research Council and joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The event is titled "Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith."

The press release for the event states that certain judicial nominees are being opposed "because they are people of faith and moral conviction." It labels a broad range of court decisions as "liberal, anti-Christian dogma," claiming that "activist courts ... have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms." In sum, the release says that "we must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

Thus, according to supporters of this agenda, including one of the foremost leaders in Congress, anyone who has a different view of the Constitution is an advocate of "liberal, anti-Christian dogma." Anyone who takes a contrary position on Senate rules of procedure is hostile to faith. End of story.

It's time to tell the truth.

There is no "filibuster against people of faith." Religious people are on both sides of the debate about the filibuster and certain Bush-nominated judges. And it's wrong for one of the country's foremost political leaders to lend legitimacy to a contrary notion. Just as no one should have to pass a religious test in order to hold political office, no one should have to pass a political test in order to claim religion or morality.

Further, the Senate has already confirmed the overwhelming majority of President Bush's judicial nominees, and there is every reason to assume that most of these judges are religious people. Many of these judges presumably share the president's views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Of course, it would be improper to oppose judges because of their faith, but it is legitimate for senators to inquire about a judge's constitutional philosophy and ability to follow settled law, whatever his or her personal opinion. And surely reasonable minds can agree that something is seriously awry when a non-Catholic senator, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, lectures Catholic senators about Catholic doctrine during a hearing on judicial nominations.

Moreover, contrary to the Family Research Council's claims, court decisions have not resulted in the "banning of school prayer" and "the expulsion of the Ten Commandments from public spaces." As courts have repeatedly recognized, students have every right to pray in public schools, as long as the school does not sponsor the prayer.

Similarly, the Supreme Court has held that if public parks are generally open for community group rallies and signs, religious rallies and signs must be welcome, too, so long as it's clear that the government itself isn't promoting religion. Indeed, many deeply religious people support these principles precisely because they don't want the government secularizing the sacred and otherwise meddling in religion.

Just as the government always perverts the faith it promotes, politicians cheapen the religion they seek to embrace when they push partisan politics in churches. When Jesus cast the moneychangers out of the temple, He said, "My house shall be called the house of prayer."

Houses of worship are holy places, not political precincts.

Dr. Frist is wrong to seek political advantage through this event, and his error is compounded by his tacit approval of these illegitimate claims of persecution and the smearing of others as "anti-religious" simply because they differ on certain political and legal issues.

When I hear attempts to manipulate people in the pews, I always think of one of my grandmother's favorite Bible verses: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

May people of all faiths and political stripes reject a spirit of fear and speak the truth, with power and with love.

Melissa Rogers is a visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

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