This is a tough time to be a judge in America. Big names from the world of religion and politics claim that the judiciary is “out of control.” These judicial reformers are working overtime to, in their words, give the courts back to the people. What they are really doing, however, is working to build a partisan court that will support their right-wing agenda.
Along the way, politicians and politically motivated Christians have manipulated the issue into a near hysterical frenzy. We saw evidence of this in the Terri Schiavo tragedy. Tom DeLay and Bill Frist shamelessly exploited the emotional pain of the Schiavo family just to gain ground in their efforts to undermine the courts.
From the faith camp, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, described the state judge who ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube as “an evil man.” Never mind that the judge in question is a conservative Republican and a Southern Baptist.
You would think evangelical leaders would reserve the word “evil” for big time bad guys like terrorists. But apparently, when you are trying to take over the government, evil is assigned as needed—even if a devoted public servant gets sacrificed in the process.
Tom DeLay, for his part, appeared on a video that was played at a right-wing religious conference called “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith.” In his remarks DeLay argued that out of control judges are waging war on our faith values. DeLay asserted ominously that whatever happens next it “must be more than rhetoric.”
Another religiously fueled event being billed as “Justice Sunday” is scheduled for this weekend. The conference is being hosted by Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. The purpose of the event is to rally the faithful against the “judicial filibuster.”
At issue is Senate Democrats use of the filibuster to stall 10 of President Bush’s 229 judicial appointments. A flyer for the Sunday event claims, “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and now it is being used against people of faith.” Right-wing religious leaders love to compare themselves to the civil-rights movement.
At any rate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a scheduled speaker at the event. And even though Sen. Frist has distanced himself from some of the more inflammatory remarks of DeLay and Dobson, his presence at the event is a clear embrace of the ludicrous idea that the judiciary is at war with Christianity.
Some of this, of course, is politics as usual–not only the filibuster but also the wrangling over judicial appointments. Nearly every sitting president has complained that lawmakers from the other party were holding up their judicial appointments. But making judicial appointments a faith issue is somewhat novel. The event this Sunday claims the filibuster is “against people of faith.”
This is a good example of Republican strategists turning political issues into a religious crusade.
But nothing is quite as dangerous as a tightly wound religious crusade. We should not be surprised if those who ride the tiger of religious extremism, to coin a phrase, one day find themselves devoured by it.
We need look no further than to religion’s lunatic fringe—those troubled souls like Eric Robert Rudolph whose reality filter gets clogged with hate. A reckless rhetoric which demonizes the men and women of America’s judiciary essentially paints a bulls-eye on their backs.
And for this there should be accountability. If one judge is shot down as a result of this political circus, DeLay, Dobson and Frist will all have blood on their hands.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.