It seems like the new political touch of death these days is to be identified as a Christian or be associated with Christians. That at least seems to be the feeling held by our good friends in the press, as evidenced by the coverage surrounding Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
At issue is the way Frist is seeking allies among conservative Christians in his fight to confirm President Bush’s judicial nominees. Frist has made several speeches recently highlighting the importance of religion on this particular front of the culture war.
On Sunday, Frist appeared at an event called “Justice Sunday,” and gave a speech to those gathered there. He called upon Democrats to end their filibuster of judicial nominees and give the nominees an up-or-down vote.
This apparently was enough to raise the ire of the New York Times and the Associated Press, both of which printed unflattering stories of his involvement in the event. Their main complaint was that the Justice Sunday event was held in a Baptist church, and that Frist had the audacity to step inside.
In an April 22 article before the event, an AP article accused Frist of “playing to religious groups to gather support for political issues” and declared “the rhetoric surrounding (the) event inflammatory.” The article also quoted Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way, as saying that Frist is out to “pander to the radical religious right” as part of his “aspirations to be President of the United States.”
Calling politicians’ association with Christians to be a “corrosive effect on policymaking,” the New York Times fumed in an April 26 editorial about Republicans being too cozy with “far-right fundamentalists.” That Christians might want to see judges appointed who don’t view religion with contempt is seen by the Times as a plot to “breach the wall between church and state.”
If such a plot were to be successful, then Christians might just be able to pass laws friendly to religion without a judge summarily dismissing them. The result of this madness, the Times declares, is the end of cartoons featuring lesbian couples and pharmacists who refuse to dispense abortion pills — a nightmare scenario indeed.
All this huffing and puffing is, of course, hyperbolic in the extreme. It is ridiculous to believe that a politician visiting a church is the harbinger of a new Inquisition. Just as absurd is the idea that religious faith has no place in political life.
After all, 75 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians. A truly representative democracy like ours should have laws that reflect the philosophy of a majority of the people. Thus, the laws that are passed will have a strong flavoring of religion in them.
This is easily seen in almost every law that is passed. Prohibitions against murder and theft ultimately are derived from the Ten Commandments, and social welfare laws like Medicare and Social Security are all based on the Progressive Movement, originally founded by Christians unhappy with the ills associated with Industrialization.
As for the “separation of church and state” argument, it is a straw-man logical fallacy. The First Amendment, which says among other things that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” was intended to prevent Congress from establishing a national church, like the Church of England, and compelling citizens to be members. Such a law is a far cry from displaying the Ten Commandments or allowing voluntary prayer in schools.
Thus, to declare that laws inspired by Christian beliefs are somehow illegitimate and unconstitutional, as opposed to laws inspired by humanist or socialist beliefs, is pure sophistry. Likewise, to expect politicians not to respect and pay attention to the views of their religious constituents is also unreasonable.
This nation is hardly “lurching toward government sponsorship of religion,” as liberals would have you believe. Nor is the current fight over judicial nominees an effort to compel people to attend church. Rather, the involvement of religious groups in these political battles is an example of the diversity of viewpoints present in our democracy. To arbitrarily dismiss those viewpoints is a disservice to our government and our society.
Sean Paroski, whose column appears every Thursday, is a senior applied mathematics major.