During his time in office, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey often appeared at Religious Right gatherings, where he denounced legal abortion and endorsed the Religious Right’s agenda. In 2002, he was even named a “Lifetime Champion of Family Values” by the Christian Coalition.
Armey may be in danger of losing that designation. These days, the Texas Republican, who left office in 2002, is singing a different tune – one that includes frank criticism of the Religious Right.
Interviewed by Texas Monthly in its January issue, Armey blasted his former colleague, erstwhile House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, for kowtowing to the Religious Right.
The constituency DeLay appealed to, Armey said, “were people like James Dobson, who were in business for themselves. They never understood that this isn’t about them. It’s about the service we perform for this nation, how we honor the great traditions of this nation, how we engage in public policy that’s consistent with the foundation principles of this nation. For example, I would argue that James Dobson is an example of somebody who never understood what they meant by separation of church and state.”
Armey seemed especially troubled by the GOP’s intervention in the Terri Schiavo case in 2005. Prodded by Religious Right groups, Congress passed a special law designed to keep Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state, connected to a feeding tube, despite her husband’s wishes. President George W. Bush interrupted a vacation to sign the law, but courts blocked the congressional interference.
Remarked Armey, “To any true lover of liberty, to anybody who believes in the separation of church and state, the Schiavo case should be a place where you sit there saying, ‘Alarm! Alarm!’”
Asked about the appropriate role of religion in politics, Armey replied, “If we advocate righteousness and if in the way we live our lives we exemplify righteousness, we are winning by doing our duty. But if we try to mandate righteousness, we are wrong. What we’ve seen happening is people saying, ‘I feel a need to be perceived as a man of faith,’ because in the current discourse of public policy, the predilection, fostered by the Republicans, is that if you are a Democrat it is in part because you are a person of little faith.”
Armey even defended the Democrats against Religious Right claims that the party is godless.
“The fact is, most of the people who congregate in the Democratic party do so because they have an expansive view of the goodness of the government, and they would probably be theologically more liberal than I would be,” he observed. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people. It just means that they enjoy the theology that you see in congregations that are more progressive, social policy-wise, and less Bible centered.”
The statements continue a trend of Armey attacks on the Religious Right. In a Wall Street Journal column last year Armey wrote, “The national representatives of the social conservative movement used to be sophisticated and tolerant. Today, they are sophomoric and angry. It’s an embarrassing spectacle seeing leaders bullied around by the likes of James Dobson, or watching the Christian Coalition team up with MoveOn.org in support of bigger government.”