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April 18, 2005

NY Times Editorial Nonsense on Frist and Justice Sunday

Tracking the ongoing discussion of the interplay of faith and politics we normally go to the strident columnists or the purposely provocative left-wing blogs to find opinion as simultaneously insipid and unfounded as the April 15 New York Times editorial diatribe on Bill Frist, faith, and the filibuster. Or for such silly partisan banter, perhaps the community college newspaper.

Whilst repairing a backyard fence this weekend with my brother-in-law Doug Payton, longtime blogger extraordinaire at Considerettes, we discussed this editorial and decided to analyze it in a joint post. (Doug's also posting it here.)

So here's a response to the Times' screed line-by-line, with Doug's thoughts in red and mine in green (we didn't see each other's comments in advance, so we are responding only to the Times):

Bill Frist's Religious War
Right off the bat, the Times frames this as a war of Bill Frist's making. No mention of the way the Democrats are rewriting the Constitution to say that the Senate Judiciary Committee is now the "advice and consent" body rather than the Senate itself. And a "religious war"? We'll see how the Times has redefined that term in a bit.
Right-wing Christian groups and the Republican politicians they bankroll...
Loaded language right from the start, which also gives the false impression that conservative Christians supply the vast majority of the money in Republican coffers. Sorry, don't think so.
...have done much since the last election to impose their particular religious views on all Americans.
Not political views, mind you, but religious views. Yes, according to the NY Times, conservative Christians have imposed their belief in Jesus as the Son of God on the nation, enshrining it in legislation via our bankrolled politicians. No? Oh, then how about other religious views, like legislating the belief that the only God is the one described in the Christian Bible? No? Perhaps they've passed a law that we should only worship that particular God? Nope, not that either. In fact there is no Christian religious view that is in our laws at all, and no one is pushing for it to happen. The Times and the liberals that think like them may like to raise the spectre of a supposed push for a Christian theocracy, but there's no politician in Washington doing anything close to that. It's outright fear-mongering that one would have thought the Grey Lady to be above. Apparently not.

What conservative Christians have tried to do is get legislation passed on social or political or criminal issues that are consistent with their own values. And this just in; everybody does that. That's what government and self-rule is for. But when conservative Christians try to do it, it's somehow an "imposition" of their "religious views". I'm sure there's a number of KKK members who aren't all that thrilled with civil rights legislation, yet technically we've imposed those views on them, and for very good reasons. So the whole idea of decrying the imposing of views is really intellectual dishonesty. The Times, anytime they advocate for any law, does the same thing.

What right-wing Christian group bankroll politicians? Most I know are asking for money from the same funding sources as the Republican politicians. The organization at issue here, Family Research Council, doesn't fund politicians. It's engaged in battle with words, not dollars. Christian groups haven't "imposed" anything on "all Americans." I hope they've made their views known in the public square. The Republican politicians haven't done much of anything since November.

But nothing comes close to the shameful declaration of religious war by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, over the selection of judges for federal courts.
Appearing on a telecast sponsored by a 501 C 3 organization with religious and political purposes to lobby for his position on the judicial appointment is a declaration of religious war? Oh please. It's Frist playing to his base, not exactly new in Washington. It is legitimate to ask whether the appointment of conservative judges is clearly important to Christian duty and concerns. Have the actions of liberal judges been un-Christian? Most evangelical Christians believe they have been. I think Frist does, too.
Senator Frist is to appear on a telecast sponsored by the Family Research Council, which styles itself a religious organization but is really just another Washington lobbying concern.
FRC is a lobbying concern run by Christians on behalf of Christian causes. There's no hidden agenda here.
The message is that the Democrats who oppose a tiny handful of President Bush's judicial nominations are conducting an assault "against people of faith."
Tiny? I think its 10 so far. And there will be more if something isn't done. Yes, unfortunately, there is no love lost between the Democrats and many people of faith. I think there is plenty of assaulting on both sides. The art of subtlety and common civility is lost on the ash heap of the last generation.
By that, Senator Frist and his allies do not mean people of all faiths, only those of their faith.
The same faith, by the way, that the Times won't be intellectually honest about. Frist ought to be given some slack, as this kind of double-standard is used against conservative Christians in a lot of areas, and this Times editorial is just the latest example. I'll agree that the term "people of faith" may be an overgeneralization, but there's nothing wrong with trying to point out when people who believe the same things you do are getting a raw deal. The fact that they're being held up because of concern that their religious views might show through is a de facto unconstitutional religious test, and worth bringing up. And even outside any views on any subject, since when do we have ideological litmus tests before confirming judges? (Answer: Since Democrats decided to do it.)

Where in the teachings of any major faith group do you find commendation of abortion on demand and same-sex marriage? Not Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Maybe in the common faith groups-faith in faith, faith in self, faith in destiny, faith in money, faith in power. Yes, I think liberal judges have sullied people of faith.

It is one thing when private groups foment this kind of intolerance.
Huh? Arguing for conservative judges is fomenting intolerance?

The Times just had to find a way to use the word "intolerance" in a sentence here. And what's odd is that they're accusing Republicans of this, while the Democrats seem pretty intolerant of views they don't agree with, so much so that they're not giving these nominees the chance for an up-or-down vote. Who's intolerant?

It is another thing entirely when it's done by the highest-ranking member of the United States Senate, who swore on the Bible...
Heh heh...the irony is just dripping here. Why exactly did he swear on a Bible? Because our founding fathers were such "intolerant" guys? uphold a Constitution that forbids the imposition of religious views on Americans.
...that, again, no one is trying to do. And remember, the Constitution says that our federal government may not have an established religion and thus not require a religious test for office-holders. Republicans are not trying to do anything like that. (Did anyone at the Times actually read the Constitution before writing that? Editors!) What Democrats are doing is trying to keep out those who hold religious views to seriously for their comfort. Again, that is the imposition.

I love this. The Times is citing the need for constitutional fidelity because of the Bible's use in an oath. How ironic. Of course this constitutional prohibition on imposition of religious views is creative but inaccurate. Pretty wild interpretation of the establishment clause.

Unfortunately, Senator Frist and his allies are willing to break down the rules to push through their agenda - in this case, by creating what the senator knows is a false connection between religion and the debate about judges.
Christians who have many judicial rulings contrary their beliefs see a very real connection.

Whether or not you believe that religion has anything to do with this issue, there are no rules being broken, and the <redundant>Democrats and the Times</redundant> both know that the filibuster rule is in fine health. Apparently, the difference between changing the rules and breaking the rules needs to be understood better by some folks.

Senator Frist and his backers want to take away the sole tool Democrats have for resisting the appointment of unqualified judges: the filibuster.
False, there is another tool: Elections. But, in order for that to work, you have to, you know, win them. Democrats have lost them recently, and this is the spoils of winning; choosing your judges.

And all these judges are "unqualified"? Without qualification, that term is also certainly false, unless the Times is again redefining words. In this case, "unqualified" means "don't agree with us".

Everyone knows this isn't about qualifications; it's about ideology. Nice try. (Another tool is to get a majority in the Senate).

This is not about a majority or even a significant number of Bush nominees; it's about a handful with fringe views or shaky qualifications.
10 nominees who were qualified by too conservative for the Democrats. I love when the liberals talk about the fringe. I guess when Democrats lose the White House, both Houses of Congress, and the majority of state houses, the fringe is really on the left, isn't it?
But Senator Frist is determined to get judges on the federal bench who are loyal to the Republican fringe and, he hopes, would accept a theocratic test on decisions.
The search for strict constructionists has become a theocratic test. Such wild rhetoric.

False. The only folks looking for a theocratic test are Democrats opposing these judges. If they really did expect these guys to give all their decisions a "theocratic test", then they really fouled this up. For example, William Pryor, who was being filibustered prior to his recess appointment, said he agreed that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was in the right with the 10 Commandments display in the Alabama Supreme Court building. Nevertheless, he followed the law as written and did his constitutional duty by having it removed. Does the Times think Pryor will employ a theocratic test? He's proven quite plainly that he won't. The Times is using an extremely broad brush on these folks, and if they're wrong about Pryor (and they are), chances are they're wrong about the others.

Senator Frist has an even bigger game in mind than the current nominees: the next appointments to the Supreme Court, which the Republican conservatives view as their best chance to outlaw abortion and impose their moral code on the country.
I think Frist is, indeed, thinking about the Supreme Court. Whose moral code is the court imposing on America now? The law is a moral teacher and, if you will, an imposer. It isn't as though only one ideology seeks to transmit its views.

Links? Sources? And what of moral code double-standards? If outlawing abortion would be the imposition of a moral code, then the legalization of abortion was the imposition of another moral code, or at the very least a values-free look at the death of children, which at the very least is an imposition on those children. Once again the Times is basically saying, "I just change the law, you impose your moral code".

We fully understand that a powerful branch of the Republican Party believes that the last election was won on "moral values."
We didn't say that first. The major networks, the pundits, and the polling experts did. They said moral values were a major factor in the election. Yes, we believed it.
Even if that were true, that's a far cry from voting for one religion to dominate the entire country. President Bush owes it to Americans to stand up and say so.
I haven't seen that particular piece of legislation. The Christian Domination of America bill.

Again I say, "Who's voting for a religion?" President Bush isn't asking for that, only for an up-or-down vote on judges. Bill Frist is complaining that the opposition to these nominees is primarily religious and he can actually point to this very editorial and prove his point in spades. This last line comes right out and says so; the Times believes that Democrats should be allowed to use a religious test on judicial nominees. That's unconstitutional, pure and simple, but the Times is all for it. And that's their definition of a "religious war" that they accuse Frist of starting. In reality it was the filibusters of these folks that called them on the carpet because of their religion. If there's a religious war going on here, it's one that the Democrats chose to invent and fight because, as the Times clearly says, they believe that a vote for these nominees is a vote to have one religion "dominate the entire country". This is a pathetic scare tactic.

Ultimately, this editorial really has the whole situation upside down and backwards, which is apparently how the Times views the world.

Posted by Jim at April 18, 2005 02:30 PM

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference NY Times Editorial Nonsense on Frist and Justice Sunday:

» The Tolerance of the NYT from Stark Trek
The Family Research Council is planning an event called Justice Sunday. [Read More]

Tracked on April 18, 2005 06:30 PM

» NY Times paranoid delusions of theocracy rebutted from The Unalienable Right
On April 15th, the NY Times published an editorial titled "Bill Frist's Religious War" The Stones Cry Out blog has posted a line-by-line rebuttal of all the paranoid nonsense in the editorial. We wouldn't think of trying to add anything to this ... [Read More]

Tracked on April 18, 2005 08:12 PM


Here are excerpts from another NYT op-ed (April 24, by Frank Rich) pertaining to Bill Frist and Justice Sunday that are worth reading:

Tonight is the much-awaited "Justice Sunday," the judge-bashing rally being disseminated nationwide by cable, satellite and Internet from a megachurch in Louisville.

The fraudulence of "Justice Sunday" begins but does not end with its sham claims to solidarity with the civil rights movement of that era. "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias," says the flier for tonight's show, "and now it is being used against people of faith." In truth, Bush judicial nominees have been approved in exactly the same numbers as were Clinton second-term nominees. Of the 13 federal appeals courts, 10 already have a majority of Republican appointees. So does the Supreme Court. It's a lie to argue, as Tom DeLay did last week, that such a judiciary is the "left's last legislative body," and that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, is the poster child for "outrageous" judicial overreach. Our courts are as highly populated by Republicans as the other two branches of government.

The "Justice Sunday" mob is also lying when it claims to despise activist judges as a matter of principle. Only weeks ago it was desperately seeking activist judges who might intervene in the Terri Schiavo case as boldly as Scalia & Co. had in Bush v. Gore. The real "Justice Sunday" agenda lies elsewhere. As Bill Maher summed it up for Jay Leno on the "Tonight" show last week: " 'Activist judges' is a code word for gay." The judges being verbally tarred and feathered are those who have decriminalized gay sex (in a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy) as they once did abortion and who countenance marriage rights for same-sex couples. This is the animus that dares not speak its name tonight. To paraphrase the "Justice Sunday" flier, now it's the anti-filibuster campaign that is being abused to protect bias, this time against gay people.

Anyone who doesn't get with this program, starting with all Democrats, is damned as a bigoted enemy of "people of faith." But "people of faith," as used by the event's organizers, is another duplicitous locution; it's a code word for only one specific and exclusionary brand of Christianity. The trade organization representing tonight's presenters, National Religious Broadcasters, requires its members to "sign a distinctly evangelical statement of faith that would probably exclude most Catholics and certainly all Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist programmers," according to the magazine Broadcasting & Cable. The only major religious leader involved with "Justice Sunday," R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has not only called the papacy a "false and unbiblical office" but also told Terry Gross on NPR two years ago that "any belief system" leading "away from the cross of Christ and toward another way of ultimate meaning, is, indeed, wicked and evil."

Tonight's megachurch setting and pseudoreligious accouterments notwithstanding, the actual organizer of "Justice Sunday" isn't a clergyman at all but a former state legislator and candidate for insurance commissioner in Louisiana, Tony Perkins. He now runs the Family Research Council, a Washington propaganda machine devoted to debunking "myths" like "People are born gay" and "Homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals are." It will give you an idea of the level of Mr. Perkins's hysteria that, as reported by The American Prospect, he told a gathering in Washington this month that the judiciary poses "a greater threat to representative government" than "terrorist groups." And we all know the punishment for terrorists. Accordingly, Newsweek reports that both Justices Kennedy and Clarence Thomas have "asked Congress for money to add 11 police officers" to the Supreme Court, "including one new officer just to assess threats against the justices." The Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body for the federal judiciary, has requested $12 million for home-security systems for another 800 judges.

Mr. Perkins's fellow producer tonight is James Dobson, the child psychologist who created Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs media behemoth most famous of late for condemning SpongeBob SquarePants for joining other cartoon characters in a gay-friendly public-service "We Are Family" video for children. Dr. Dobson sees same-sex marriage as the path to "marriage between a man and his donkey" and, in yet another perversion of civil rights history, has likened the robed justices of the Supreme Court to the robed thugs of the Ku Klux Klan. He has promised "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if he doesn't get the judges he wants.

Once upon a time you might have wondered what Senator Frist is doing lighting matches in this tinderbox. As he never ceases to remind us, he is a doctor - an M.D., not some mere Ph.D. like Dr. Dobson - with an admirable history of combating AIDS in Africa. But this guy signed his pact with the devil even before he decided to grandstand in the Schiavo case by besmirching the diagnoses of neurologists who, unlike him, had actually examined the patient.

It was three months earlier, on the Dec. 5, 2004, edition of ABC News's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," that Dr. Frist enlisted in the Perkins-Dobson cavalry. That week Bush administration abstinence-only sex education programs had been caught spreading bogus information, including the canard that tears and sweat can transmit H.I.V. and AIDS - a fiction that does nothing to further public health but is very effective at provoking the demonization of gay men and any other high-risk group for the disease. Asked if he believed this junk science was true, the Princeton-and-Harvard-educated Dr. Frist said, "I don't know." After Mr. Stephanopoulos pressed him three more times, this fine doctor theorized that it "would be very hard" for tears and sweat to spread AIDS (still a sleazy answer, since there have been no such cases).

Senator Frist had hoped to deflect criticism of his cameo on "Justice Sunday" by confining his appearance to video. Though he belittled the disease-prevention value of condoms in that same "This Week" interview, he apparently now believes that videotape is just the prophylactic to shield him from the charge that he is breaching the wall separating church and state. His other defense: John Kerry spoke at churches during the presidential campaign. Well, every politician speaks at churches. Not every political leader speaks at nationally televised political rallies that invoke God to declare war on courts of law.

Posted by: Bill at April 23, 2005 07:35 PM