By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 8 -- Republicans and leaders of the religious right gathered in a black church here Sunday night to build support for Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. as part of their effort to block gay marriage, end abortion and restore religious expression in the public square.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said the elevation of Alito to the top court is crucial because "extremely liberal justices [are] destroying traditional morality." The battle, he said, is against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are determined to "continue the far left judicial activism on the Supreme Court."
Conservative religious leaders have sought to capitalize on their successes in the elections of 2002 and 2004 by winning a fight over a Supreme Court nominee and defeating their Democratic and liberal adversaries.
"We were able to hold off Michael Moore and the folks in Hollywood, and most of the national media, and George Soros and the Kennedy crowd that fought so fiercely against the election of George Bush," former Moral Majority chairman Jerry Falwell told about 600 people gathered in the Greater Exodus Baptist Church here.
By far the most rousing speech -- more sermon than speech -- was given by Greater Baptist's pastor, the Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II.
Citing the harsh criticism he has faced from liberals and other black leaders, Lusk said: "I've been called a sellout. I've been called an Uncle Tom, and the New York Times called me a maverick in the black church." Lusk said he welcomed being called a maverick if it means supporting "the original intent of God Almighty" in opposition to abortion and the "redefinition of marriage. . . . Brothers and sisters, we will not go down without a fight."
Lusk warned adversaries: "My friends, don't fool with the church because the church has buried a million critics. And those the church has not buried, the church has made funeral arrangement for."
Lusk, a Bush supporter whose organization has received more than $1 million in federal grants under the administration's Faith Based Initiative, said, "From all I believe, this is the right thing to do," referring to his central role in "Justice Sunday III." "I believe this is what Jesus would have me do."
The Alito nomination, which is opposed by a wide range of organizations on the left, is shaping up as a major test of both sides in the nation's culture wars, with conservatives holding the initial advantage because polls have shown that a majority of voters support the nomination.
Republicans and Democrats agree that if Alito succeeds Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court is likely to shift to the right, especially on abortion issues and in disputes over the separation of church and state.
The Justice Sunday III speeches by Lusk, Falwell, Focus on the Family's James Dobson and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins were televised on several Christian networks and directly into churches across the country. The gathering at Greater Exodus was about 60 percent black and 40 percent white.
"The threat to our religious liberties has not diminished," Perkins declared. He cited rulings against the Pledge of Allegiance, restrictions on the display in public places of the Ten Commandments and a recent decision barring the Indiana House from beginning sessions with prayers that refer to Jesus Christ.
"These are not theoretical threats. They present a clear and present danger to religious freedom in our country," Perkins said. "We are not interested in creating a theocracy in America, we have no interest in a church state. What we want is a church that is free to speak the truth."
Don Feder of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation said, "If Christianity fails in America, if the left has its way, America as we know it will cease to exist."
The major demand of religious conservatives after the 2004 election, when their votes were crucial to the reelection of President Bush, has been the appointment of social conservatives to the Supreme Court.
"The Family Research Council has not taken an official position," Perkins said, but "we are very, very comfortable with the nomination of Samuel Alito."