Minister Says Group Blessed Chairs Before Alito Confirmation Hearings

A trio of Religious Right activists was so concerned about Judge Samuel A. Alito’s confirmation hearings that they slipped into the hearing room hours before the event got under way and blessed all of the chairs with holy oil.

The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council in Washington, D.C., tried to enter the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room Jan. 5 but was blocked by Capitol Police. Schenck said he wanted to continue a ceremony to “consecrate” the room. He told reporters he and two others, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney and Grace Nwachukwu, had entered the room earlier and anointed all of the chairs with holy oil.

“We did adequately apply oil to all the seats,” Schenck told The Wall Street Journal.

Capitol Police said the room is not normally kept locked but promised to check the room for bombs and listening devices before the hearing.

Schenck is no stranger to controversy. In the 1990s, he and his twin brother, Paul, were known for their aggressive anti-abortion protests. In more recent years, he has spearheaded campaigns to post the Ten Commandments at government sites.

Like many Religious Right leaders, Schenck believes that God will turn his back on the nation if current trends continue. Last month, he commented on Americans’ practice of praying for divine intervention in the face of natural disasters. Some found his remarks insensitive.

Schenck was commenting on a West Virginia mine disaster that claimed 12 lives. In an article published by Agape­Press, an arm of the American Family Association, Schenck said, “We often turn to God only when we feel like nothing else can be done. And, in the Bible, God rebuked nations who only turned to Him in their most extreme moments of need. That has been our tradition in the United States. Whenever we find ourselves in a situation where we get to the end of our own resources, we turn to God.”

Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group, said Schenck appeared to be questioning the religious devotion of those in West Virginia who prayed for the miners while their fate was still unknown. After the mine collapse, several news outlets noted that local families had gathered at a Baptist church for prayer services. Initial reports that all of the miners were saved, which later proved to be incorrect, were attributed to a miracle.