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Friday, March 30, 2007

Christian Soldiers

by digby

The other night I wrote a post about the Bushie Best and Brightest in which I noted that more than 150 Pat Robertson U (Regent university) graduates had been hired by the admnistration. In doing some research on the post below, I once again came across this article from last fall in the New York Review of Books by Gary Wills called "A Country Ruled By Faith" that further illuminates how this came about:

The head of the White House Office of Personnel was Kay Coles James, a former dean of Pat Robertson's Regent University and a former vice-president of Gary Bauer's Family Research Council,[2] the conservative Christian lobbying group that had been set up as the Washington branch of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. She knew whom to put where, or knew the religious right people who knew. An evangelical was in charge of placing evangelicals throughout the bureaucracy. The head lobbyist for the Family Research Council boasted that "a lot of FRC people are in place" in the administration.[3] The evangelicals knew which positions could affect their agenda, whom to replace, and whom they wanted appointed. This was true for the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and Health and Human Services—agencies that would rule on or administer matters dear to the evangelical causes.[4]

The White House was alive with piety. Evangelical leaders were in and out on a regular basis. There were Bible study groups in the White House, as in John Ashcroft's Justice Department. Over half of the White House staff attended the meetings. One of the first things David Frum heard when he went to work there as a speech writer was: "Missed you at the Bible study."[5] According to Esther Kaplan:

Aside from Rove and Cheney, Bush's inner circle are all deeply religious. [Condoleezza] Rice is a minister's daughter, chief of staff Andrew Card is a minister's husband, Karen Hughes is a church elder, and head speechwriter Michael Gerson is a born-again evangelical, a movement insider.[6]

Other parts of the administration were also pious, with religious services during the lunch hour at the General Services Administration.[7]

Faith-Based Justice

The labyrinthine infiltration of the agencies was invisible to Americans outside the culture of the religious right. But even the high-profile appointments made it clear where Bush was taking the country. One of his first appointments, for the office of attorney general, was of the Pentecostal Christian John Ashcroft, a hero to the evangelicals, many of whom had earlier wanted him to run for president— Pat Robertson had put up money for his campaign. As a senator, Ashcroft had sponsored a bill to protect unborn life "from [the moment of] fertilization." As soon as he was nominated to be attorney general, the Family Research Council mobilized women to lobby at Senate offices for his confirmation.[8] The evangelicals had long been familiar with Ashcroft's piety. He told an audience at Bob Jones University that "we have no king but Jesus," and called the wall of separation between church and state a "wall of religious oppression."[9]

After his nomination but before his confirmation, Ashcroft promised to put an end to the task force set up by Attorney General Janet Reno to deal with violence against abortion clinics —evangelicals oppose the very idea of hate crimes. The outcry of liberals against Ashcroft's promise made him back off from it during his confirmation hearings. In 2001, there was a spike in violence against the clinics —790 incidents, as opposed to 209 the year before.[10] That was because the anthrax alarms that year gave abortion opponents the idea of sending threatening powders to the clinics—554 packets were sent. Nonetheless, Ashcroft refused for a long time to send marshals to quell the epidemic.[11]

That was one of many signs that this administration thought of abortion as a sin, not as a right to be protected. The President himself called for an amendment to the Constitution outlawing abortion. He called evangelical leaders around him to celebrate the signing of the bill banning "partial birth abortions." The signing was not held, as usual, at the White House but in the Ronald Reagan Building, as a salute to the hero of younger evangelicals. Ashcroft moved enforcement of the ban to the Civil Rights Division, a signal that evangelicals appreciated, implying that the fetus is a person with civil rights to be protected.[12] Then, in what was called a step toward enforcement, Ashcroft subpoenaed hospitals for their files on hundreds of women who had undergone abortions —Democrats in Congress called this a major invasion of privacy.[13]

Ashcroft's use of the Civil Rights Division for religious purposes was broader than his putting partial-birth abortion under its jurisdiction. Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, two critics of Republican policies, write in One Party Country:

In 2002, the department established within its Civil Rights Division a separate "religious rights" unit that added a significant new constituency to a division that had long focused on racial injustice. When the Salvation Army— which had been receiving millions of dollars in federal funds—was accused in a private lawsuit of violating federal antidiscrimination laws by requiring employees to embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs, the Civil Rights Division for the first time took the side of the alleged discriminators.[14]

Little did he know that the Regent brigade were also down and dirty Justice Department party loyalty enforcers. Apparently blind fealty to Bush and the GOP is the way you show your love for Jesus.