Supreme Court battle raises concerns about faith-based politics

Supreme Court battle raises concerns about faith-based politics

By staff writers
28 Oct 2005

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Supreme Court battle raises concerns about faith-based politics

-28/10/05

Harriet Miersí withdrawal as President George Bush's nominee for the US Supreme Court has reopened the debate about what many believe to be the harmfully disproportionate influence of the "religious right" on the current US administration.

White House counsel Miers, a friend and ally of Mr Bush going back to his days as governor of Texas, announced her withdrawal as a Supreme Court nominee on 27 October, following a sustained campaign against her.

Miersí nomination caused outrage among hard-line conservatives, because she was seen as a ìnon-company personî with no track-record of substantive rulings on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Others of moderate or liberal opinion focused their criticism on her lack of qualifications for such high office, including an absence of proven knowledge of constitutional law.

Miersí withdrawal was accepted by Mr Bush, whose presidential victory in 2004 has been put down by many commentators to the mobilization of evangelical Christian voters.

In a move which caused puzzle and alarm in many quarters, President Bush had invoked Miers' evangelical faith to justify her nomination in the face of criticism that she had no judicial experience.

Now politicians and lawyers across the political spectrum are expressing concern that overt religious right lobbying, backed by big money individuals, is being used to bully and manipulate elected leaders and public servants.

The contentious issue is not advocacy on particular issues. Everyone accepts that public debate needs to be lively and robust. The problem is actions designed to politicize public appointments and compromise or reverse the separation of church and state. Even evangelical leaders are uncomfortable with this.

Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental relations for the conservative National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which claims to represent about 30 million believers, says his constituency is seeking to move "from a domestic vision to a global vision, from a narrowly sectarian to a comprehensive vision, from exclusive to inclusive."

The worry is that the sectarian religious right is determined to move in the opposite direction. "Evangelicals have been used by presidents and politicians for wedge-driven politics for decades," says Cizik. "Not all of us think we ought to be at the whim of someone's secular strategy.î

John Cochrane, writing in a recent edition of the US Congressional Review, observed: ìThe bargain that brought evangelical activists into the Republican Party was this: They would support the low-tax, small-government agenda of fiscal conservatives, who had long been the bedrock of the GOP, and fiscal conservatives would support evangelicals on the cultural and social issues that mattered most to them.î

Constitutional specialists, secularists, people of no-fixed ideology, as well as those on the secular and religious left, see this as a decidedly unholy alliance.

But while religious loyalty is undoubtedly a major mobilizing factor, many believe that the problem of overbearing money-driven and power-centred lobbying is the wider issue within which it needs to be considered.

The emergence of a countervailing progressive religious voice around people like Sojourners editor Jim Wallis has shown that Christian participation in public life does not have to be hectoring, and can distinguish between persuasion and compulsion in the way it chooses to operate.

The problem, say commentators, comes in deciding how to protect a plural political framework when vocal minorities with little apparent concern for broader agendas and wider democratic opinion seek power that lies well beyond accountability.

Recently President Bush has also faced renewed criticism for his alleged claim that God told him to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

[Also from Ekklesia: God and the politicians ñ where next? And Subverting the Manifestos: a Christian contribution to the UK election debate]

Harriet Miers' withdrawal as President George Bush's nominee for the US Supreme Court has reopened the debate about what many believe to be the harmfully disproportionate influence of the "religious right" on the current US administration.

White House counsel Miers, a friend and ally of Mr Bush going back to his days as governor of Texas, announced her withdrawal as a Supreme Court nominee on 27 October, following a sustained campaign against her.

Miers' nomination caused outrage among hard-line conservatives, because she was seen as a 'non-company person' with no track-record of substantive rulings on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Others of moderate or liberal opinion focused their criticism on her lack of qualifications for such high office, including an absence of proven knowledge of constitutional law.

Miers' withdrawal was accepted by Mr Bush, whose presidential victory in 2004 has been put down by many commentators to the mobilization of evangelical Christian voters.

In a move which caused puzzle and alarm in many quarters, President Bush had invoked Miers' evangelical faith to justify her nomination in the face of criticism that she had no judicial experience.

Now politicians and lawyers across the political spectrum are expressing concern that overt religious right lobbying, backed by big money individuals, is being used to bully and manipulate elected leaders and public servants.

The contentious issue is not advocacy on particular issues. Everyone accepts that public debate needs to be lively and robust. The problem is actions designed to politicize public appointments and compromise or reverse the separation of church and state. Even evangelical leaders are uncomfortable with this.

Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental relations for the conservative National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which claims to represent about 30 million believers, says his constituency is seeking to move "from a domestic vision to a global vision, from a narrowly sectarian to a comprehensive vision, from exclusive to inclusive."

The worry is that the sectarian religious right is determined to move in the opposite direction. "Evangelicals have been used by presidents and politicians for wedge-driven politics for decades," says Cizik. "Not all of us think we ought to be at the whim of someone's secular strategy.'

John Cochrane, writing in a recent edition of the US Congressional Review, observed: 'The bargain that brought evangelical activists into the Republican Party was this: They would support the low-tax, small-government agenda of fiscal conservatives, who had long been the bedrock of the GOP, and fiscal conservatives would support evangelicals on the cultural and social issues that mattered most to them.'

Constitutional specialists, secularists, people of no-fixed ideology, as well as those on the secular and religious left, see this as a decidedly unholy alliance.

But while religious loyalty is undoubtedly a major mobilizing factor, many believe that the problem of overbearing money-driven and power-centred lobbying is the wider issue within which it needs to be considered.

The emergence of a countervailing progressive religious voice around people like Sojourners editor Jim Wallis has shown that Christian participation in public life does not have to be hectoring, and can distinguish between persuasion and compulsion in the way it chooses to operate.

The problem, say commentators, comes in deciding how to protect a plural political framework when vocal minorities with little apparent concern for broader agendas and wider democratic opinion seek power that lies well beyond accountability.

Recently President Bush has also faced renewed criticism for his alleged claim that God told him to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

[Also from Ekklesia: God and the politicians - where next? And Subverting the Manifestos: a Christian contribution to the UK election debate]

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