Faith-Based Hypocrisy

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, October 7, 2005

Now we know: President Bush's supporters are prepared to be thoroughly hypocritical when it comes to religion. They'll play religion up or down, whichever helps them most in a political fight.

Shortly after Bush named John Roberts to the Supreme Court, a few Democrats, including Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), suggested that the nominee might reasonably be questioned about the impact of his religious faith on his decisions as a justice.

Durbin had his head taken off. "We have no religious tests for public office in this country," thundered Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), insisting that any inquiry about a potential judge's religious views was "offensive." Fidelis, a conservative Catholic group, declared that "Roberts' religious faith and how he lives that faith as an individual has no bearing and no place in the confirmation process."

But now that Harriet Miers, Bush's latest Supreme Court nominee, is in trouble with conservatives, her religious faith and how she lives that faith are becoming central to the case being made for her by the administration and its supporters. Miers has almost no public record. Don't worry, the administration's allies are telling their friends on the right, she's an evangelical Christian .

Marvin Olasky, a conservative Christian writer who has been a strong Bush supporter, explained his sympathy for Miers. "Maybe it's the judicial implications of her evangelical faith, unseen on the court in recent decades," Olasky wrote on his blog. "Friends who know Miers well testify to her internal compass that includes a needle pointed toward Christ."

James Dobson, the founder and chairman of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, told Fox News's Brit Hume: "We know people who have known her for 20, 25 years, and they would vouch for her. . . . I know the church that she goes to and I know the people who go to church with her." On the Wednesday edition of his radio show, Dobson was more specific: "I know the individual who led her to the Lord."

Rather mysteriously, Dobson, who was briefed on the nomination by Bush's chief lieutenant, Karl Rove, told Hume: "I do know things that I am not prepared to talk about here." He was equally cagey with the New York Times: "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about." The intrigue whetted the curiosity of Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who said that "if the White House gives information to James Dobson, that information should be shared equally with the U.S. Senate."

Jay Sekulow, counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said on Pat Robertson's television show that the Miers nomination was "a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court."

The use of Miers's religion as a magnet for conservative support is not just the work of a few religious voices. It's part of the administration's strategy. The New York Times reported that the White House put Judge Nathan L. Hecht, Miers's close friend and a fellow member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, "on at least one conference call with influential social conservative organizers" to testify to her conservative faith.

Let's be clear: It is pro-administration conservatives, not those terrible liberals, who are making an issue of Miers's evangelical faith. Liberals are not opposing Miers because she is an evangelical. Conservatives are telling their friends to support Miers because she is an evangelical.

There is, however, some good news. A significant number of conservatives are outraged over the administration's look-at-her-faith campaign. I was first tipped off to the White House's pious strategy earlier this week by a prominent conservative who is very sympathetic to people of faith but angry at what he sees as the misuse of religion in the Miers battle.

And Ed Morrissey, whose "Captain's Quarters" is one of the most popular conservative blogs, said publicly what other concerned conservatives have said privately. "The push by more enthusiastic Miers supporters to consider her religious outlook smacks of a bit of hypocrisy," Morrissey wrote. "After all, we argued the exact opposite when it came to John Roberts and William Pryor when they appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. . . . Conservatives claimed that using religion as a reason for rejection violated the Constitution and any notion of religious freedom. Does that really change if we base our support on the same grounds?"

I'm eagerly awaiting the White House's answer to that question.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company