Democratic Candidate Jamie Raskin Sets Christian Rightist Straight
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 12:19:42 AM EST
An upstart candidate running in the Democratic primary for Maryland State Senate may be poised to stage a remarkable upset. The candidate, Jamie Raskin is becoming nationally known as an advocate for marriage equality -- and for coining a phrase so important and so memorable that it deserves not only be to be widely quoted -- but considered part of an essential lesson that should be deeply learned by everyone concerned about the rise of the religious right; especially by those who hold or aspire to public office at all levels
Linguist George Lakoff is right about framing. And this is an instance in which the right phrasing helps us to crystallize the frame in a way that defends the Constitutional rights of all against the dominionist excesses of the Christian Right. The entire episode is worthy of some study as an exercise in reframing by standing up for the constitution rather than debating religion; and in how the longer term answer lies in electing better people to public office.

Jeremy Learning, writing at the blog, Wall of Separation, tells the story of the Raskin's testimony (which was covered by The Baltimore Sun) at a hearing in the Maryland legislature on proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. Raskin, a professor of Constitutional Law at American University had been asked to testify by Equality Maryland, a marriage equality organization.  More dramatic than his testimony was his exchange with Republican State Senator Nancy Jacobs who said, "As I read biblical principles, marriage is intended, ordained and started by God - that is my belief, ... For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principles."

Raskin replied:

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution," Raskin said. "They don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."


In one stark colloquy, the dominionist Christian view of law was demolished and rebutted as effectively as I have ever seen.

In a recent issue of The Public Eye, I noted that dominionism is a term used by outside observers to understand a complex yet vitally important trend. For people trying to figure out if a conservative politician, organization, or religious leader is a "dominionist," I noted three characteristics to listen for:

... Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.

Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.

Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.

Nancy Jacobs, in this one public statement exhibits at least two of the three characteristics of a dominionist, promoting religious supremacy; promoting theocratic notions of law operating under "Biblical principles." According to her official biography, she was a longtime leader in Concerned Women for America before being elected to office. She currently sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland State Senate, which was considering the proposed Constitutional Amendment when she met up with Jamie Raskin.

Jacobs epitomizes the trajectory of dominionist activists during the rise of the Christian Right over the past two decades. She learned the ropes, ran for office, and now she sits on a powerful committee of the Maryland State Senate.

What to do?

There are candidates for public office who are quietly supportive of such things as marriage equality. And there are those who publicly articulate their views with clarity and conviction. And then there are those who can also face down Christian right activists who have attained elected office. Raskin is clearly such a candidate.

Raskin's fearless and and focused response to the religiously-informed and anti-Constitutional statement of a top Christian Right state senator sets a new standard for what we should expect from our elected officials and candidates for public office.

Raskin is running in the Democratic primary in September against 20 year incumbent Ida Ruben.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. They don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."  -- Jamie Raskin

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 12:21:07 AM EST
I'm spreading this far and wide. It's already been added to the Quote section of the Wiki, and to the front page of the Dark Christian Live Journal community. And I am going to link to this post, too.

by Lorie Johnson on Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 08:54:08 AM EST
I like your definitions of dominionism. I would like to add that it should be noted that dominionists believe that the Bible is an absolute, infallible source of God's word, and elevate it above even Christ and God. They worship the Bible. This is a critical difference, and when examining religious groups, their mission statements (or creeds) should always be checked to see where the Bible falls in their regard. If the Bible is first, then you are probably dealing with dominionists- especially if they are making their beliefs into law. Every change in the law they wish to force upon our government is driven by Scripture.

by Lorie Johnson on Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 09:06:54 AM EST

It seems to me that this is more than framing.  It's a declaration of principal.  Does  this gentleman have any other pointed statements we can use?  I'd love to see him do a guest post here.

by tikkun on Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 10:34:30 AM EST
by definition incorporates principle. Framing is not to be confused with more superficial notions as "message" or more broadly, public relations.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 16, 2006 at 01:52:40 PM EST

Let's never forget that the unconstitutional positions of dominionists are based, not on "scripture," but on particular interpretations of particular translations of particular canons comprising a combination of transcriptions of oral tradition and actual written documents selected over a stretch of at least a millenium by groups of human beings who duked it out in an often lethal political conflict. Let's never forget that the Protestant canon was still not settled at the time the King James translation (itself great poetry but also the result of political wrangling) was completed.

This doesn't mean that the favored "scripture" of Christian fundamentalist Protestants doesn't embody valuable spiritual and humanistic truths--the same as the Catholic Bible, the Quran, the Rig Veda, the teachings of Lao Tzu, etc. It does mean that these folks aren't arguing for allegiance to the word of God as opposed to the word of men and women, but are instead arguing that one product of human political process should trump all other products of human political processes.

In short, it's self-defeating for progressives to accept the framing that this is about "scripture" vs. something else--"God's word" vs. man's, for example (sic on the sexism). It's actually about premiating one human, if perhaps inspired, political document (the Protestant Bible in the fundamentalists' favorite translation) opposed to another human, clearly inspired, political document: The U.S. Constitution. This is people vs. people, not people vs. God.

by Scarabus on Sat Mar 18, 2006 at 05:57:21 PM EST

Raskins's response to lame Brain Nancy Jacobs simplistic statement was so easy...  It is amazing just how close real solutions to the distractions erected by the Dominionists really are...

In light of the utter incompetence of Democrats in both Congress and Senate to represent the last hope of adherence to constitutional values, the article's author, Frederick Clarkson correctly states that the long term answer lies simply in, "electing better people to Public Office".

So many of us have failed to hold our Democratic Representatives accountable for their poor performance.  The time has now come to "clean house".  Let's start with Nelson and Lieberman first.  After that, it would be a good time to begin dismantling what, in my opinion has been the biggest scourge to many traditional Democratic values, and indeed, the main reason for the mess we find ourselves in today, namely, the DLC..., and yes Hillary Clinton.  It's time for her to go too.  Only then can America begin their their slow ascent from the effects of this illegal fascist/Jacobian Bush regime, and their reptillian Dominionist enablers.

by pekopper on Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 07:16:21 PM EST

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