01/11/2006 09:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Justice Sunday" Forgets Justice

The day before the Senate began hearings on the appointment of Samuel Alito to a seat on the Supreme Court, the religious right flexed its political muscle at a political telethon broadcast from Philadelphia. "Justice Sunday" speakers blasted "judicial activism," but nary a one mentioned justice .

Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania railed against liberal judges saying they are, "destroying traditional morality, creating a new moral code and prohibiting any dissent." Conservative radio commentator, James Dobson, founder of "Focus on the Family" reminded the partisan crowd that liberal courts have made it "impossible" for children to pray or read the Bible at school. And, ultra-conservative pastor, Jerry Falwelll, said, "I've never looked on abortion and family values as a political issue - these are moral issues."

Of course, abortion and "family values" are political issues. The religious right focuses on a narrow band of issues, and they have, once again, come to the fore in the Alito hearings. What do these ultra-conservative Christians want?

The answer is they want to change the nature of the American judicial system. While religious radicals continue to be obsessed with abortion and gay marriage, an important secondary theme is to restrict the role of the courts in legal interpretation. Three of the conservative Family Research Council's top ten legislative priorities address the judiciary. The basic contention is, "modern judicial activism has threatened the constitutional form of representative democracy as conceived by the Founding Fathers." "The appointment of activist judges is the most powerful tool liberals have. Without activist judges on the bench most of the liberal agenda would not find its way into American law or culture. Throughout the first term of President Bush, Senate Democrats obstructed known conservatives, especially those considered potential Supreme Court nominees." The FRC calls for elimination of the Senate filibuster process - an important safeguard for the rights of the "minority."

Another part of the FRC initiative is to restrict court jurisdiction, "Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution provides Congress with the authority to eliminate federal court jurisdiction over specific issues. The practical effect of such jurisdiction-limiting legislation would be to allow disputes to be handled by state courts, where judges do not serve for life and tend to be closer to the people." The religious right seeks to have bills passed that would, for example, prohibit the courts from interfering with displays of the Ten Commandments. This would allow states to determine issues like whether or not Bible study is mandatory in public schools.

The third part of the FRC judicial initiative is to breakdown the barrier between church and state. An important element of this is the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act . They seek to "liberate clergy from the muzzle imposed by the absolute ban on all speech that may be regarded as 'political,' and thereby enable them to speak out on all vital and moral and political questions of the day."

So what? Why does it matter to progressives that on January 8th thousands of conservative Christians gathered in Philadelphia, or in front of their TVs, to watch demagogues like Santorum, Dobson, and Falwell?

It matters for two reasons. The first is that the Justice Sunday speakers and organizers, and the others like them, seek to batter down the separation of church and state that is such an integral part of American democracy. They have tragically short memories. They forget that many of the founders of our country came here to escape from religious persecution in England and other European Countries. They also forget that Germany's National Socialist Party did break down the separation of church and state. The Nazis created the "Reich" Church, which forced the racist views of the minority "German Christian" Protestant church on all Protestants. The Nazis arrested and harangued pastors who opposed them and replaced the crucifix with the swastika.

Another reason that it matters is because the agenda of Justice Sunday, and the religious right, has nothing to do with the original teachings of Jesus. They use the word justice but forget its meaning - fair treatment for all Americans.

If you read the Mathew 5-7 you will find many of Jesus' teachings about Justice. "Congratulations to those who have suffered persecution for the sake of Justice!" "Treat people in the ways you want them to treat you." The Bible contains thousands of verses about justice, particularly about the problem of poverty.

The Religious Right has restricted their focus to abortion, gay marriage, and judicial activism. In so doing, they have ignored the fundamental teachings of Jesus. They have forgotten about justice.

It was an atheist, Karl Marx, who remarked, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Marx meant that some religion serves to divert believers rather than to empower them. Ironically, it is ultra-conservative Christians, groups like "Justice Sunday," that are now brewing the most virulent form of this opiate - casting a powerful spell over their members. Causing them to ignore the roots of their oppression and to lose all hope for real justice.