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THE NATION

Evangelicals Rally to 'Save the Court'

Conservative Christian leaders urge support for Bush nominee John G. Roberts Jr.

August 15, 2005|Steven Bodzin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) joined conservative church leaders Sunday to encourage evangelicals to help advance the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court.

At a 90-minute Nashville service that featured religious and political leaders, DeLay said, "We're here to protect the court so it can keep protecting us."

Dubbed "Justice Sunday II: God Save the United States and This Honorable Court," the evening service filled the 2,300-seat Two Rivers Baptist Church and was viewed live on the Web, watched at Christian churches around the country and later broadcast on Sky Angel, a Christian satellite network.

Organizer Tony Perkins, president of the conservative advocacy group Family Research Council, told reporters Friday that the event was "not a Roberts rally." In fact, few of the speakers mentioned Roberts by name, and those who did were restrained in their remarks. James Dobson, founder of another advocacy group, Focus on the Family, said, "For now at least, he looks good."

The event's timing was intended to involve the evangelical movement in Roberts' confirmation, which the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up in early September.

Urging supporters to call in for a "Save the Court" kit, Perkins characterized the event as "the launch of an effort that will span 2 1/2 to 3 years" to encompass several Supreme Court nominations. "We need to be praying for the future of the court," he said.

Speakers, standing before an image of the Ten Commandments, repeatedly said liberals relied on "judicial activism" rather than the legislative process to fulfill their goals, particularly referring to abortion rights, same-sex marriage and the elimination of religious symbols in public places.

"The American people have heard the arguments for state-sanctioned same-sex marriage," DeLay said. "We've heard the arguments for 'partial-birth' abortion and for ridding the public square of religion. We've heard the arguments; we just disagree."

In addition to concerns about abortion, school prayer and same-sex marriage, several speakers brought up a June case in which the Supreme Court ruled that governments can use eminent domain and displace residents in the economic interest of a community.

DeLay was joined by former Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and leading figures of the Christian right, including Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship; William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and Ted Haggard, president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals.

At the first Justice Sunday, held April 24, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) joined religious leaders to demand a Senate vote on conservative judicial nominees. That event was held less than a month after the death of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March after a judge ordered her feeding tube removed. That case, which was battled in state and federal courts, solidified some conservative Christians' beliefs that the courts were too liberal. Schiavo's name was invoked Sunday night.

Since April, three judicial nominees who were then in contention for the federal bench -- Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla R. Owen and William H. Pryor Jr. -- have been confirmed by the Senate after the so-called Gang of 14 moderates deterred a filibuster, an achievement that Perkins called "very successful."

Frist, a physician, infuriated religious conservatives two weeks ago by pledging his support for embryonic stem cell research, and was not invited to take part in the Nashville event.

The first Justice Sunday also spurred organizing among religious liberals.

Some of them protested the sequel, holding a "Justice Every Day" rally at another Nashville church. The event featured the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

At a news conference, the Rev. William G. Sinkford, Unitarian Universalist Assn. president, said, "No one religious group or political party can ever hold a monopoly on religious belief."

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