Religious Right, Santorum Sing Praises Of Alito At Phila. Church Rally

Religious Right groups sponsored a nationally televised rally Jan. 8 to press for the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr., insisting his vote on the high court will help reverse judicial decisions upholding church-state separation.

“Justice Sunday III,” as the event was dubbed, took place at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia on the day before Senate confirmation hearings for Alito began in Washington. The rally, sponsored by the Family Research Council, drew an array of Religious Right activists and their allies, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Rhetoric in the pulpit was shrill and often partisan. Falwell, for example, depicted the fight to confirm Alito as an extension of three decades of Religious Right work on behalf of the conservative Republicans.

“We were able to hold off Michael Moore,” he thundered, “and most of Hollywood and most of the national media…who fought so fiercely against the reelection of George Bush. Now we are looking at what we really started 30 years ago: the reconstruction of a court system gone awry.”

Falwell implored listeners to call the Senate and demand Alito’s confirmation.

“Get on the telephone, write your letter, get to your U.S. senators,” the controversial Lynchburg evangelist demanded. “Let’s confirm this man, Judge Alito, to the U.S. Supreme Court. And let’s make one more step toward bringing America back to one nation under God.”

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told the crowd that liberal judges are intent on “destroying traditional morality, creating a new moral code and prohibiting dissent.”

Santorum, who faces a tough reelection campaign this year, is apparently trying to rally his Religious Right base. He continued, “The only way to restore this republic our founders envisioned is to elevate honorable jurists like Samuel Alito. Unfortunately, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem poised to drag these hearings into the gutter, so they can continue their far-left judicial activism on the Supreme Court.”

The Rev. Herb Lusk, pastor of the host church, was even more inflammatory, bitterly denouncing critics (such as Americans United) who noted that his ministry received over $1 million in “faith-based” funding from the Bush administration, after Lusk endorsed Bush in 2000.        Lusk said he didn’t mind being called a sellout, an Uncle Tom and a maverick if it meant defeat for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

“My friends,” Lusk warned ominously, “don’t fool with the church because the church has buried a million critics. And those the church has not buried, the church has made funeral arrangement for.”

Advocates of individual freedom said Religious Right support for Alito is part of the movement’s scheme to overturn church-state separation and impose a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible on all Americans.

In a press conference call Jan. 6, progressive religious leaders denounced the rally, called for an independent judiciary and supported freedom of conscience. The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, observed, “We count on the Supreme Court as an independent body. Religious liberty is one of the least understood and most valued freedoms in the country: to worship in the way we see fit, and never, never, to be coerced.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, told reporters that Justice Sunday III was nothing more than “a big play” by the Religious Right “to gain control over the one branch of government they don’t now control.”

Added Lynn, “The folks putting on the event have every right to do so. We are concerned solely about [Alito’s] judicial philosophy and whether he truly understands that the Supreme Court is the last great protector of the rights of the people.”