The Court and the Cross: Scholar Examines Religious Right Attempt to Remake the Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Frederick Lane is an author and professional lecturer on civil liberties issues. His recent book, The Court and the Cross: The Religious Right's Crusade to Reshape the Supreme Court, examines efforts by fundamentalist Christian political groups to persuade the courts to lower the churchstate wall. Lane talked about the book with Church & State. (A longer version of this interview appears on AU's Web site, www.au.org.)

Q. What sparked your interest in this topic?

A. My interest in the Religious Right's campaign to target appointments to the Supreme Court was sparked by the research on my previous book, The Decency Wars. It was clear that the Religious Right was intent on using the courts to promote a narrow and exclusionary view of America. Given the presidential election in November 2008 and the age of many of the Supreme Court justices (particularly on the liberal end of the court), I felt it was an important time to tell the story.

Q. Yon say that the Religious Right has been waging a determined crusade for decades to make the United States a "Christian nation." What would America look like if that movement succeeds?

A. If the Religious Right were to succeed in its crusade to make America a "Christian nation," the primary victim would be pluralism. At the very least, a particular brand of Christianity would have been explicitly endorsed in the Constitution. The teaching of evolution would be left to the discretion of individual states, as would the drafting and forced participation in (or at least exposure to) a state-authored prayer. Abortion would also be at the mercy of individual state legislatures. The Ten Commandments would be hung in a variety of public spaces. State and federal tax dollars would go directly to religious schools and other religious organizations. In the more extreme versions, Old Testament principles of morality and punishment would govern public and private behavior.

Q. Religious Right strategists' top goal has been taking over the Supreme Court. How close have they come to achieving their goal?

A. The Religious Right has come perilously close to achieving its goal of taking over the Supreme Court. President George W. Bush essentially outsourced the selection and vetting of judicial nominees to representatives of the Religious Right, particularly the American Center for Law and Justice's Jay Sekulow and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. Although neither Chief Justice Roberts nor Justice Alito are nominally members of the Religious Right, their overall approach to judicial issues is generally in line with the goals of the Christian right.

Q. You say conservative justices have battered the wall of separation between church and state in recent decades. Is church-state separation still in danger at the high court?

A. There is no question that the wall between church and state has been under persistent assault since William Rehnquist was appointed Chief Justice. Although many of the core rulings of the Earl Warren Court remain good law, the Rehnquist Court among other things expanded the extent to which federal and state funds could be spent in religious schools. More recently, the Roberts Court made it virtually impossible for taxpayers to challenge the Bush administration's distribution of funds to religious organizations through the White House's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Q. The Religious Right now has its own law schools (Regent University, Liberty University, etc.) and its own well-funded legal organizations (the American Center for Law and Justice, the Alliance Defense Fund, etc.). How influential are these outfits?

A. Certainly within the Religious Right, the evangelical educational institutions, law firms, and public policy groups enjoy tremendous influence. …