2008 Election: Why The Supreme Court Matters genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak
Sarah Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate has evangelicals feeling all warm and fuzzy. Her presence on the ticket has energized the conservative base and rekindled concerns that this election will see the reemergence of a full-scale culture war. Truth be told, the culture war had never ended...it had just been sent into a funk with the selection of John McCain.
While many in the media have focused on the enthusiasm Palin has brought to this election cycle (high ratings and ad revenues anyone?), few have actually attempted to impart the significance of the Palin selection. It's my suspicion that John McCain, unable to gain traction in the polls, elected to heed the lessons learned by those who are now leading his campaign...those who previously crafted the campaigns of George W. Bush. What this means is that the GOP, once thought to be moving away from values politics, has again opted to return to what it knows best...the politics of division.
Those who think this is a momentary relapse may want to think again. The appetite for wedge issue politics is immense...and the size and enthusiasm of the crowds, at the once lukewarm McCain campaign stops, is all the evidence one needs.
While I believe there is a movement in the evangelical community towards expanding their list of relevant issues...a movement that would likely lead some values voters to reconsider the merits of always voting with the GOP...there must be concern that the Palin selection will do little to advance that shift. Frankly, who could blame these fledgling pastors for abandoning their efforts to expand the consciousness of their followers and return to the red meat issues that have proven so successful in motivating the masses. If nothing else, it becomes a question of financial viability. Vegetarian values may seem vogue...but it's still the red meat that sells.
What is often lost in the media's focus is an understanding of the actual objectives of those voters who have seen a new dawn in the selection of Sarah Palin. Yes, the generalized analysis offered by the media chooses catch phrases like "God, guns, and gays"...but the stakes that underlie this culture war are far more ominous.
In fact, the tactics used by the GOP are much the same as those employed by the religious right. An example may be beneficial. For years, Christian conservatives have utilized a strategy of repetitious rhetoric...designed to define their opponents as an imminent threat to their beliefs. The best example is the constant assertion that there is a "militant homosexual agenda".
Now aside from the Stonewall Riots, a skirmish between subversives in skirts and the police department that sought to harass them, the notion of militancy is strictly hyperbole. Regardless, this hyperbole establishes an extremely effective mindset in the moral minions...one that believes the enemy seeks to vanquish their values and install a new world order. Where this strategy deviates from past propaganda employed by partisan politicos is in its effort to cast the opposition as the aggressor...not the aggrieved.
I'm of the opinion that the lessons learned in the civil rights era serve as the foundational basis for this new strategy. The efforts to maintain segregation (think George Wallace) were eventually viewed as extreme by a majority of Americans. Proponents of maintaining racial inequality did little more than voice their prejudice...exposing their objectives and alienating the fair minded.
In the last thirty to thirty five years, many of those who shared these ideological leanings have reconstituted themselves as evangelicals. Let me be clear...by no means am I implying that all evangelicals hold the same views or that being an evangelical is evidence that one does. What I am saying is that it became the chosen vehicle for a group of like minded individuals intent upon waging war against the social issues they opposed.
Call it a softer gentler strategy...at least on its surface. Insert language that implies one is defending family values and Christian principles...from militant groups who have no regard for our long standing cultural traditions...and one begins to see the shift, subtle as it may be. At the same time, it is essential to argue that the enemy's objective has no connection to civil rights or constitutional inclusion; rather it is a rogue lifestyle intent upon undermining our values.
Now let's look at goals. Again, a look at the civil rights era sheds light on the strategy. What was learned from the civil rights era is that any legitimization is apt to insure more...eventually leading to judicial justification, legislative affirmation, and ultimately societal acceptance. When social conservatives invoke the slippery slope argument, they are actually explaining their own perceptions of the process that led to racial inclusion and therefore guides their opposition to any and all measures that validate homosexuality.
Like their black and white interpretations of the Bible, they see the battle against gays in the same manner. The rush to embrace Biblical literalism represents the commitment to this new strategy. As such, any compromise is akin to capitualtion...which means ideology must be absolute if one is to successfully repel the efforts of the enemy. At the same time, the ultimate goals must be disguised and deflected with rhetoric that is palatable to the general public. The door must be shut (constitutional amendments) before they can ultimately unveil their moral manifesto.
That leads me to the latest and clearest evidence of the obscured, but unfolding, objective. I wrote about this subject previously, when it was in its foundling state. As it turns out, the first foray into the execution of the plan has proceeded and is scheduled to be implemented at the end of this month. Take a look at the details.
Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
"For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society."
Couple this goal with the rumblings over pharmacists refusing to dispense contraceptives as a matter of religious belief, insistence that religious hospitals be exempt from offering services that conflict with their ideology, demands that private employers be free to discriminate against those whose lifestyles conflict with their values, and one begins to see the end game.
If the ADF and its adherents can succeed in breaching the separation of church and state, under the guise that they are actually defending victims of religious discrimination, they will have successfully elevated religious ideology to the same status as constitutional law. At that point, government would be handicapped in distinguishing and delineating matters of constitutional equality from matters of faith.
The goal is to insure that religion's influence on government isn't limited to the ballot box...but actually that God's law is placed on par with the constitution. In other words, they seek to insure that religious beliefs cannot be subjected to constitutional rebuke...and if they are, there should be recourse to claim religious discrimination.
An example may be helpful. Let's look at LGBT employment. The end game of the ADF and its allies is to insure that religious views cannot be abridged by constitutional interpretation. They want religious freedom to be on a par with civil rights...beyond simply having the freedom to choose which religion one elects to embrace and vote accordingly. In other words, if homosexuality is contrary to one's religious beliefs, one should be allowed to refuse to hire homosexuals...regardless of the possibility that such acts may be unconstitutional.
Currently, private groups like the Boy Scouts and religious institutions have been allowed to discriminate accordingly...as a matter of their religious beliefs. Generally speaking, I understand and acknowledge the constitutional basis of this practice, However, I believe the goal is to establish that right for any individual regardless of the environment in which such discriminations take place. In simple terms, an individual forced to work in close contact with a homosexual could claim his religious beliefs are being abridged.
Should there be any doubt as to the comprehensive nature of this objective, take note of the rhetoric that seeks to cast judges as judicial activists. Lest there be any doubt, the same logic for biblical literalism underlies calls for an "originalist" view of the constitutional...a view that virtually ignores current cultural considerations and relies strictly upon those issues that were addressed at the time it was adopted.
In other words, since it was silent on issues of sexual orientation, such issues cannot be adjudicated through the constitution...they weren't considerations at the time and they can't be retroactively included by interpretation. The argument suggests that since no one is preventing gays from forming relationships, albeit absent judicial or legislative recognition, they can't be construed as being denied anything intended by the constitution.
At the same time, if groups like the ADF can succeed in granting religious ideology equal standing with the constitution, arguing that we were, in fact, created as a Christian nation, they could possibly succeed in their goal of removing the prohibitions against commingling church and state...based upon an argument that doing so would remove a form of discrimination.
What is different is the Alliance Defense Fund's direct challenge to the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.
"We're looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits," Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.
Stanley said three dozen church leaders from more than 20 states have agreed to deliver a political sermon, naming political names.
"The sermon will be an evaluation of conditions for office in light of scripture and doctrine. They will make a specific recommendation from the pulpit about how the congregation would vote," he said.
"They could oppose a candidate. They could oppose both candidates. They could endorse a candidate. They could focus on a federal, state or local election."
Such endorsements are prohibited by a 1954 amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."
Founded in 1994 by Christian conservatives including James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the ADF has challenged same-sex marriage initiatives, stem cell research and rules that limit the distance protesters must keep from abortion patients. It helped the Boy Scouts ban gay Scout leaders.
Defining its latest mission, the ADF declared that pastors have "too long feared" the loss of tax exemptions.
"We're not encouraging any congregation to violate the law," Stanley said. "What we're encouraging them to do is exercise their constitutional right in the face of an unconstitutional law."
The outstanding question, as we approach the 2008 election, is just how close are the ADF and the religious right to achieving their goal? Well, a quick look at recent Supreme Court rulings instructs us that it may well be one vote shy of victory. Should there be any doubt as to the gravity of this election, the next president is assured of at least one appointment...and likely more.
While voters are being distracted by rhetoric, the minions of morality are maneuvering to institutionalize a manifesto that would alter America forever. The fact that they've honed their strategy to portray themselves as victims has been exceptionally effective. Nevertheless, the underlying goal is no less heinous than that of those who sought to to support segregation.
In fact, one could argue that by overlaying their objectives with Biblical doctrine, the end results could be far more oppressive. Even worse, it could be the first step towards the criminalization of all things contrary to "Christian" ideology. Lest anyone doubt this purpose and its potential, heed the frightening words of Tom Delay, a man who has demonstrated a willingness to pursue his objectives regardless of propriety and legality, "He [God] is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for a biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me."
The stakes are enormous.