Magazine article The American Prospect

Deepening the Religious Divide

Magazine article The American Prospect

Deepening the Religious Divide

Article excerpt

IN THE RELIGIOUS WAR NOW BEING WAGED BY THE Republican Party, battles are designed not to be won but to mobilize troops for larger battles to come. The ultimate goal is not to dismantle the wall between church and state, although this would be a byproduct. It is to bring the majority of Americans who consider themselves religious into the Republican Party, thereby securing the GOP'S dominance for generations to come.

This is the only way to understand the Republicans' decision to politicize the tragic case of Terri Schiavo. They could not have seriously believed that their eleventh-hour legislation would be upheld by the courts. The Schiavo law was an unprecedented and blatant usurpation of judicial authority. But their goal wasn't to end up with that law, or even to keep a Terri Schiavo alive. It was to further energize and mobilize the religious fight.

Right-wing cable television and talk radio used the case to rant against judicial "elites" who, supposedly in league with America's other cultural elites, were imposing their immoral values on good God-fearing Americans. "The Schiavo case dramatized the need to do something to restrain the judiciary," said Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union. "So when we get to the coming battles over judicial nominees in the Senate, perhaps the public will be somewhat more engaged in realizing what's at stake. In this case, literally life and death."

It's a straight battle line from Schiavo to the current fight over George W. Bush's nominees to the appellate courts to the biggest battle of them all, which will be over the next Supreme Court nominees. But winning these battles is not the main point of staging them. It's to further inflame passions of the religious right and to bring other religious Americans to the cause.

When House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused the courts of "running amok" for overturning the Schiavo law, it wasn't to help his colleagues in the Senate summon enough votes for a rule change to end the filibuster and clear the way for Bush's judicial nominees. Notably, the forum he chose was a conference called "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," sponsored by religious conservatives.

Nor was Texas Senator John Cornyn trawling for additional Republican votes when he opined days later on the Senate floor that recent courthouse shootings might be motivated by distress about judges who "are making political decisions and yet are unaccountable to the public. …

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