Conservative jihadists seek to erode liberty

April 25, 2005|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA - It would be comforting - but naive - to dismiss House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as a harmless, charmless churl who appeals only to a tiny, ineffectual group inhabiting the far religious right. In fact, the DeLay wing of the Republican Party is on the rise, and its antediluvian agenda represents a serious threat to American democracy.

That's no exaggeration.

If the DeLay wing gets its way, the entire nation will live according to the rigid rules of a handful of self-righteous folks who distrust modernity. They would dictate the way we worship, live, work, have sex and even die.

While five years' worth of political analysis has made much of the nation's cultural divide - a bitter disagreement over social issues that cleaves the nation roughly in half - the fact is that the entire country is being manipulated by a much smaller group. (Only 13 percent of Americans approved of Congress' intervention in the painful Terri Schiavo case.)

After President Bush's re-election, the news media swooned over vaguely worded polls showing "moral values" were the most important consideration for 22 percent of voters. But we don't really know what voters had in mind: Did they mean opposition to gay marriage, or did they mean support for programs for the poor?

Nevertheless, the generals among the religious extremists - men such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family - have used those polls to exaggerate their influence and browbeat less-reactionary Republicans into supporting their agenda. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions, is the latest to bow before them.

Don't be fooled into believing that the DeLay-Dobson axis represents the beliefs of most ordinary, God-fearing Americans, Christian or otherwise. It doesn't. Consider just two issues that represent the extremists' views: the chorus of complaint against federal judges and an increasingly vocal opposition to contraception.

After judges refused to ignore the law in the Schiavo case, religious extremists stepped up their attacks, suggesting that the federal judiciary is dominated by liberals out to ruin a moral America. In fact, more than half of the 821 active federal judges (445, or 54 percent) were appointed by Republicans, according to the Federal Judges Biographical Database.

Florida Judge George Greer, the main judge in the Schiavo case, was elected to the Circuit Court after a stint as a Republican on the Pinellas County Commission. He has been described as a conservative Christian. But Judge Greer, who has weathered death threats, is apparently not conservative enough to satisfy the DeLay faction.

According to recent polls, 94 percent of Americans find contraception morally acceptable and 78 percent of Americans believe pharmacists have no right to refuse to fill the prescriptions. Yet there is an increasingly vocal group of extremists who want to deny adults the right to contraception.

Across the country, women are complaining of ultraconservative pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions, sometimes quizzing women on their marital status before making a decision. The next thing you know, they'll be barging into your bedroom to make sure you're wearing your flannel nightgown.

These extremists have much in common with the jihadist wing of Islam. While Christian extremists usually don't practice violence, but merely threaten it (see Judge Greer, above), they share with extremist Muslims the belief that all people should be forced to live according to their views. That's about as un-American as it gets.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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