Theocrat of the Week
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 04:19:31 AM EST
One of the stumbling blocks for those concerned about the theocratic movements in American public life is that there are so few people who openly call for theocracy. There are a lot of reasons for this: One of which is that it is fair to say, that just because people are theocratic in their politics, doesn't mean they are stupid. It is much safer for those who lean theocratic to say, after all, that one is simply "conservative" or "Christian." Of course, scratch that surface, and one sometimes learns that someone's idea of Christian conservatism, is that America was founded as a Christian nation; that the founders of the country intended biblically based laws, and much, much more. So it is easy for glib commentators to ridicule those who are concerned about the theocratic bent of the religious right, in general, or any of its constituent parts or individual leaders. But taking on the glib commentators, and arriving at more useful ways of understanding and discussing things theocratic, is part of the purpose of this series.

That said, I am pleased to announce that after conferring with Our Distinguished and Learned Panel of Judges, our Theocrat of the Week is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney! Although in the first tier of candidates for the GOP nomination for president, Romney seemed a dark horse in the running for Theocrat of the Week. But he was able to pull ahead of the pack with a stroke of theocratic political brilliance that will long be recalled in the hallowed halls of the Theocratic Hall of Fame.  

Sometimes a theocrat is able to get across his message to theocrats of all stripes so adroitly and succinctly, albeit, unsubtly, that it comes to encapsulate the worldview, while sustaining a shred of plausible deniability against those who would hang the name of theocrat around his neck.  When we hear such things, we must sit up and take note, and if we are really on the ball, take notes. Indeed, this is Romney's singular accomplishment this week.  A bit of background is in order to appreciate the signficance of Romney's deft declaration.

Romney had found himself campaining in South Carolina, one of the states of the Old Confederacy; a state where one of the big issues in the 2000 GOP presidential primary was whether the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of massive resistance to school integration and the African American civil rights movement, should continue to be flown at the state capitol building. (The edgy politics of race have receded a bit since then, but not all that far.) Similarly, the politics of old theocratic styles of state-supported religious majoritarianism die hard. These days, we hear its ugly echo coming down through the decades in attacks on the federal courts by religious right leaders like Tony Perkins and James Dobson. They denounce such decision a the federal court's removal of Roy Moore's religious monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama state courthouse as "judicial tyranny."

The echos we hear are in ongoing reaction a series of 20th century Supreme Court decisions that sought to make the bill of rights real in the states at a time when the protections of individual rights, which now seem self-evident, were not so clear. The principal way the court approached this was via the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads in part:  

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

What it sought to do, was to extend the protections of the bill of rights to the states. Previously, there had been tension between federally guaranteed rights in the first Amendment's banning religious establishments, and protecting individual religious rights -- and those of the states to decide these matters. But applications of the 14th Amendment by the federal courts led to children having the constitutional right to education free from racial discrimination, (Brown v. the Board of Education); and a series of court cases that meant that children had their right to attend public schools that were free from state sponsored religious coercion, such as mandatory Bible reading and prayers led by government employees or using state resources to otherwise promote religion.

Governor George C.Wallace of Alabama was the most prominent leader of massive resistance to desegregation of the schools ordered by the federal courts. He was also upset by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the then-recent school prayer and bible reading cases decided by the Supreme Court. Wallace demagoged these issues in announcing his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

Today, this tyranny is imposed by the central government which claims the right to rule over our lives under sanction of the omnipotent black-robed despots who sit on the bench of the United States Supreme Court.

Let us look at the record further with respect to the court's contribution to the destruction of the concept of God and the abolition of religion.

The Federal court rules that your children shall not be permitted to read the bible in our public school systems.

Let me tell you this, though. We still read the bible in Alabama schools and as long as I am governor we will continue to read the bible no matter what the Supreme Court says...

And in 1973, the Supreme Court, drawing on the "due process" clause of the 14th amendment, found that women had the constitutional right to decide for themselves whether or not to have an abortion.  

Justice Harry Blackmun, author of Roe Vs. Wade, stated:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

But without Roe, and Blackmun's reasoning, the door would be reopened to state-based religious majoritarian restrictions on abortion, if not outright criminalization -- based on religious views of when life begins. (Lest anyone doubt that there is a wide range of religious opinion about the when life begins, and the autonomy of women in these matter, see the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.)

So when Mitt Romney went to South Carolina, with its history of resistance to racial integration and recent celebrations of the Confederate battle flag, and declared that abortion is a matter best left to the states, we heard not the argument of a politician who is pro-choice or pro-life, but one who thinks that religious majorities should be able to outlaw abortion based on their theological views of when life begins, and ignore constitutionally guaranteed rights under the 14th Amendment. According to the Associated Press Romney's award winning statment came in response to a question as to whether he supported the proposed South Carolina law that would make fetal sonograms mandatory. He dodged the specific question and went to a deeper principle:  

"I would like to see each state be able to make its own law with regard to abortion," Romney said after a speech to about 50 small business leaders. "I think the Roe v. Wade one-size-fits-all approach is wrong."

Thus Romney offered to those with a nostaligia for another time -- a theocratic pander wrapped in an evasion:  the idea that he might also think that other matters, such as prayer and bible reading, and perhaps matters of race, should be left to the states. And he did it in the disguise of an evasive statement about a local abortion controversy.  

Now, at this juncture, it would seem unlikely that the courts are about to unravel a century of judicial thought rooted in applications of the 14th amendment -- including Roe itself. However, that's not the point. Romney told his audience, albeit in coded form, that is the direction he would like to go -- and that, is what earns Mitt Romney our recognition as the Theocrat of the Week.

for the next Theocrat of the Week. You can make your nominations right here, or send them to:

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 04:40:28 AM EST

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