Monday, January 17, 2005

Extreme right resonance

You know, it's bad enough when media figures and televangelists spout far-right theocratic propaganda as truth, something that happens nowadays with great regularity. But it's really a pretty dire sign when national and state officials start spouting talking points that originate from the extremist right -- and everyone shrugs.

I'm not just talking about Clarence Thomas, though he obviously is a big part of the equation. It goes beyond that.

The incident this time arises around a swearing-in ceremony for Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, the protege of Judge Roy Moore, whose campaign to "defend" the Ten Commandments monument he had placed in an Alabama courthouse attracted a bevy of neo-Confederate and other extremist supporters and eventually brought about his removal from the bench.

According to news reports of the ceremony:
Many stood and applauded former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore as he walked to the stage to administer the oath to Parker. Moore's action was ceremonial, since Parker took his formal oath of office Thursday before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Washington. Parker said Thomas told him a judge should be evaluated by whether he faithfully upholds his oath to God, not to the people, to the state or to the Constitution.

This is a deeply troubling remark on several levels, all of which indicate it is yet another notch forward for the ongoing stealth campaign to install theocratic rule in America. At least, it indicates that their fundamental tenets are now accepted at the highest levels of government.

Ignatz points out the constitutional problems this position suggests, especially if Justice Thomas indeed holds this view:
But -- if this quote is accurate -- Justice Thomas does not purport to have such a jurisprudential view, but instead he recognizes that there is a difference between a judge's fidelity to God and his or her fidelity to the constitution; that is the meaning of the assertion that you will be evaluated by your performance as to one rather than the other. Which does he choose? I think it fair to assume that a person who says that God will evaluate you on such-and-such, will try to do what he thinks God wants, right? So -- again if this quote is correct -- Justice Thomas has essentially admitted that he will make rulings based not on any view that they are correct as a legal matter, but because they are what God wants.

Beyond the jurisprudential concerns, though, these remarks resonate with an even deeper problem: the spread of extremism into the conservative mainstream, and by extension the corridors of power.

If Justice Thomas indeed endorses such a position -- and it's by no means clear he does -- this is a monumental problem, because it means extremism has taken root at the highest level of federal power. Even if he doesn't, though, it should be noteworthy all in itself that Judge Parker would so clearly endorse such a view.

Of course, it's probably not a surprise. Not only is Parker the protege of Moore, he argued during the just-finished campaign against repealing racist provisions of the state constitution -- a position a majority of the state's voters wound up endorsing.

But Parker is also a Republican in good standing with the national party, and so far no one from the GOP has uttered a peep about these remarks.

The really striking thing about this is that the religious worldview Parker (and supposedly Thomas) wishes to advance, in fact, is a kind of religious right-wing extremism. There is nothing mainstream about this position.

Specifically, Parker's remarks are drawn almost verbatim from a belief system called Theocratic Dominionism, also known as "Christian Reconstruction." These are the people who not only claim that this is a "Christian nation," but that church-state separation is "a myth." More specifically:
Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life--such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely "social" or "moral" issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion. Reconstructionists have formulated a "Biblical world view" and "Biblical principles" by which to examine contemporary matters. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly describes this view: "The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law."

More broadly, Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God's covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and children are "in submission" to him. In turn, the husband "submits" to Jesus and to God's laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God's laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called "theonomy."

Thomas' supposed exhortation to Parker closely mirrors one by reconstruction founder R.J. Rushdoony:
The law is therefore the law for Christian man and Christian society. Nothing is more deadly or more derelict than the notion that the Christian is at liberty with respect to the kind of law he can have.

Jay Rogers, a noted Reconstruction advocate, spells out the agenda even more clearly:
You may ask, In a biblically reconstructed society: Who will be able to vote? Who will be able to rule? Elections will still be determined by popular vote of the people and legislation will still be voted on by representatives. Communities will have been reconstructed through personal regeneration so that the majority of the electorate will be Christian or will hold to a "Christian philosophy." Therefore, the only people qualified to rule will be professing Christians who will uphold the moral law of God. This may be called a "theonomic representative democracy" or a "theocratic republic."

... We recognize that the only standard for civil law is biblical law. Civil law must has some standard: either it is human autonomy (what man sees as right in his own eyes) or it is biblical law (what God declares to be right in His Word). Again, take your pick!

Some have objected that this would lead to the mass stoning of homosexuals and incorrigible children. Reconstructionists must emphasize that what we want is not strong rule by the federal government in determining these matters, but the freedom for individual Christians, families, churches, and local community governments to rule without interference from a centralized state. We believe that Reconstruction is from the ground up. Mass regeneration must precede Reconstruction. As more are converted to Christ, more individuals become self-governing. This leads to stronger families and churches and the ability of local communities to govern their own affairs. Thus the total numbers of cases of sodomy or of uncontrollable children would grow less and less. The state would rule in fewer and fewer cases.

Other forms of right-wing extremism share similar views about the supremacy of "God's law" (especially in contrast to "man's law"), most notably Christian Identity:
Since Identity followers believe that the Bible commands racial segregation, they interpret racial equality as a violation of God's Law. If Christian ministers advocate racial equality, they are advocating breaking God's Law. Identity and the Christian Republic The creation of a white Christian republic in the United States is a shared goal within the white supremacist movement, from the hard-core neo-Nazis of the Aryan Nations to the many Christian Patriot groups. The Identity movement provides a theological justification for this racism and breach of the constitutionally- mandated separation of church and state. For example, William Potter Gale, an influential Identity leader who died shortly after being indicted for conspiracy to kill IRS agents, wrote:

"The Church is composed of the many-membered body of Jesus Christ. This Republic was founded as a Christian Republic. The government is nothing but an expansion of the Christian church! It was founded by a compact...know as the Articles of Confederation, Perpetual which have their source in the Holy Bible. Since the Constitution was lifted from the Articles of Confederation, the source of the Constitution is the Bible."

For all their religiosity, though, the Reconstructionists are openly willing to embrace deception in order to win their war. Specifically, they advocate (among themselves, at least) using the openness of America's democratic institutions -- specifically, the doctrine of religious liberty -- to bring about a regime that in fact ends religious liberty. This was made explicit by another significant Reconstruction figure, Gary North:
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

And lest there remain any illusions about their ruthlessness, keep in mind how Jay Rogers explained their end game:
Simply put: either we will have man's law or God's law as a standard for civil legislation. We are not looking for a "voice a the table" nor are we seeking "equal time" with the godless promoters of pornography, abortion, safe-sodomy subsidies, socialism, etc. We want them silenced and punished according to God's Law-Word.

If that sounds fascist to you, it should. Fritz Stern, a famed scholar of European history, recently raised the issue of religion as a key component of fascism in a report from the New York Times' Chris Hedges on an address Stern gave recently at the Leo Baeck Institute:
In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as "the instrument of providence" and fused his "racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity."

"Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he said of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas."

... "There was a longing in Europe for fascism before the name was ever invented," he said. "There was a longing for a new authoritarianism with some kind of religious orientation and above all a greater communal belongingness. There are some similarities in the mood then and the mood now, although also significant differences."

HE warns of the danger in an open society of "mass manipulation of public opinion, often mixed with mendacity and forms of intimidation." He is a passionate defender of liberalism as "manifested in the spirit of the Enlightenment and the early years of the American republic."

"The radical right and the radical left see liberalism's appeal to reason and tolerance as the denial of their uniform ideology," he said. "Every democracy needs a liberal fundament, a Bill of Rights enshrined in law and spirit, for this alone gives democracy the chance for self-correction and reform. Without it, the survival of democracy is at risk. Every genuine conservative knows this."

Somehow, I doubt that Clarence Thomas and Tom Parker were listening.

UPDATE: Atrios has posted the verbatim quote from Parker, and it is considerably different than its garbling by the reporter:
PARKER: "Just moments before I placed my hand on the Holy Scripture, Justice Thomas soberly addressed me and those in attendance. He admonished us to remember that the worth of a justice should be evaluated by one thing, and by one thing alone: whether or not he is faithful to uphold his oath _ an oath which as Justice Thomas pointed out is not to the people; it's not to the state; it's not even to the Constitution, which is one to be supported, but is an oath which is to God Himself."

I agree with Atrios that this largely lets both Parker and Thomas off the hook, since this sentiment is relatively benign. However, I also agree with Atrios as to the continuing relevance of the concern at issue here: Namely, a worldview that exhorts judges to put their religious beliefs before the law -- a worldview with extremist origins -- has been gaining wider acceptance in the right-wing mainstream, including the judiciary.

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