Magazine article The Christian Century

Judicial Posts: For Justice or 'Just Us'?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Judicial Posts: For Justice or 'Just Us'?

Article excerpt

WHEN SOME leading Christian conservatives threw their weight behind Republican efforts recently to speed Senate approval of judicial nominees of President Bush, they subtitled their widely viewed "Justice Sunday" rally at a Kentucky church "Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith."

The rally, at a 6,000-member church in Louisville, might not have caused such a fuss in America's ongoing culture wars except that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke via videotape--thus enlisting Christian right heavy-hitters for his political threat to undercut the filibuster tactics used by Democrats to block ten of Bush's most controversial nominees.

The outrage expressed by liberal-to-moderate church leaders in news conferences and a counterrally in Louisville seemed partly stirred by the implication that "people of faith" include only judges, clergy and activists on the ideological right.

A few days before the April 24 rally, Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said the event should have been called "Just Us Sunday" instead. "Their attempt to impose on the entire country a narrow, exclusivist, private view of truth is a dangerous, divisive tactic," said Edgar, adding that it "demonizes good people of faith who hold political beliefs that differ from theirs."

About 2,000 people packed High-view Baptist Church for speeches televised to hundreds of churches by satellite and seen by others on the Internet. The sponsors were Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

A counterrally the same day at Louisville's Central Presbyterian Church was attended by hundreds, who heard socially liberal evangelical Jim Wallis protest the "declaration of a religious war."

Joe Phelps, pastor of Central Presbyterian, said the claim by the Family Research Council that the ten Bush-nominated judges were being blocked because of their religious beliefs was "deceptive" in framing "political strategy in terms of religious liberty."

Frist and other GOP leaders, frustrated that they have not always achieved full Senate votes on all nominees because of filibustering strategies, have threatened to change the Senate rules and permit ending filibusters by a majority vote rather than the three-fifths now required. The talkathon tactic is defended by some Republicans and most Democrats as necessary to prevent a strong majority from overriding minority views at will.

Regardless of how the latest legislative fight develops, liberal church representatives have been somewhat taken aback by the fierce rhetoric of Christian right leaders and Republicans--and even one of the judicial nominees.

California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, one of two women appellate court nominees approved April 21 by the Senate Judiciary Committee for full Senate consideration, told a meeting of Catholic legal professionals on April 24--the same day as "Justice Sunday"--that these are "perilous times for people of faith."

Brown, quoted by the Stamford Advocate newspaper in Connecticut, said that "it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud." She characterized the opposition as atheists and secularists battling religious traditions. …

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