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Religious Right Bashes the Courts


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Religious Right Bashes the Courts

by Derrick Z. Jackson

We glibly call out religious fanaticism from abroad. President Bush warns us how ‘‘small groups of fanatics or failing states could gain the power to threaten great nations, threaten the world peace. America and the entire civilized world will face this threat for decades to come.’’ Bush is of course silent on the religious fanatics he is indebted to, who are on the verge of helping him change America for decades to come.

Last weekend, leaders of the Christian right held ‘‘Justice Sunday II,’’ a mega-church telecast. Speaker after speaker attacked the Supreme Court. It is not enough for them that Bush’s conservative choices for lower courts are being approved. It is not enough that the high court, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has generally become more conservative over the last quarter century and played a key final role in Bush gaining office in the disputed 2000 election.

No, even with a court that can hardly be described as liberal, Justice Sunday was a crazed attack on the court. House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas said the Supreme Court had usurped the power of Congress to make laws. He said the high court was guilty of ‘‘judicial supremacy, judicial autocracy.’’

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the high court is so out of control, it needs a constitutional amendment to say that ‘‘unless a judicial vote is unanimous, you cannot overturn a law created by Congress.’’ In a story in Newsday, Donohue said, ‘‘I’m going to try to do my job to intimidate the Senate Judiciary Committee so they do their job more carefully.’’ Asked by Newsday if he really meant to use the word intimidate, he answered, ‘‘Absolutely.’’

From the way Robert Bork talked at Justice Sunday, you would have thought he was talking about Margaret Marshall and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that legalized gay marriage. Even though the Supreme Court has issued mixed rulings concerning the rights of gay and lesbian people — striking down a criminal statute on sodomy on one hand but upholding the right of private groups to ban gay leaders and participants on the other — Bork, the famously rejected high court nominee, said that body has made homosexuality ‘‘a constitutional right.’’ He moaned that ‘‘once homosexuality is defined as a constitutional right, there is nothing the states can do about it, nothing the people can do about it.’’

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who blasts moderate, prochoice, progay-rights Republicans, calls the court an ‘‘oligarchy.’’ The organizer of Justice Sunday, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, railed that the high court legalized the killing of unborn children and ‘‘homosexual sodomy."

Donohue claimed the Supreme Court is taking away ‘‘the hearts and souls of our culture.’’ Their black and white way of looking at culture ignores the grays that most Americans grapple with. Contrary to the fire and brimstone about sodomy, a plurality or majority of Americans now accept either civil unions or marriage for gay and lesbian couples. In three different polls this year, New York Times/CBS, USA Today/CNN and Washington Post/ABC, found that between 40-to-45 percent of Americans believe there should be no legal recognition of gay couples. Between 47-to-57 percent say they would approve of either civil unions or marriage.

Undercutting the fanatics claim about whose culture it is, the New York Times poll of last February found that even among Republicans only a bare majority, 54 percent, were against any legal recognition. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans were for civil unions and another 8 percent approved of same-sex marriage. A Boston Globe poll this spring found that while Republicans overwhelmingly reject gay marriage, 70 percent to 21 percent, a slight plurality favors gay unions, 46 percent to 3 percent.

A woman’s right to choose an abortion is of course even more settled in the American mind, with 60 percent of Americans saying this month in a CBS poll that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was a ‘‘good thing,’’ compared to 35 percent who say it was bad. Similarly, a USA Today/CNN poll this summer found that 65 percent of Americans want a new Supreme Court justice who would uphold Roe v. Wade, compared to 29 percent who want a justice who would help overturn it.

Yet these fanatics rail on, with significant influence in the Bush administration and confident that John Roberts, Bush’s nominee for the court, is the man who will help them, as Donohue hopes, ‘‘move to the front of the bus’’ and ‘‘take command of the wheel.’’ Justice Sunday means moving the actual heart and soul of America to the back of the bus.

© 2005 Boston Globe


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