What's Really Scary -- at least to me
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 24, 2007 at 12:04:29 AM EST
Recent events have underscored the belatedness with which a lot of people are discovering the religious right, or at least some of the institutions that the movement has created to fulfill its objectives.

As Monica Goodling emerged as a figure in the current scandals at the U.S. Department of Justice, people who really ought to know better, were shocked, shocked, to learn that 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University have worked in the Bush administration, notably Goodling.  

Now, as people consider the legacy of religious right leader Jerry Falwell, suddenly people are discovering that Falwell's Liberty University also has a law school, and by golly it is actually committed to teaching according to its world view. One prominent blogger found a recent article about this in The Chicago Tribune to be

about the scariest article I have read in awhile.  It begins with Jerry Falwell and his Liberty University dream of "training a new generation of lawyers, judges, educators, policymakers and world leaders in law from the perspective of an explicitly Christian worldview."

Suddenly a major newspaper notices that there are -- gasp -- a growing number of evangelical law schools!  It is not exactly news, and it probably would not have even been much remarked upon if Falwell had not upped and died. But the strongest thing that the blogger could say was that it was "scary."

I don't mean to pick on anyone, and that is why I am not linking to the post, since this post at least picked-up on the story and underscored its importance. My point is that somehow we need to get better at talking about the major institutions of the relgious right -- instead of reacting like we just saw Jaws for the first time.

The Tribune reported:

...not just at Liberty, with its evangelical Baptist heritage, but at a growing number of conservative Christian law schools, such as the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., which graduated its first class in 2003; the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, which graduated its first class in 2004; and Barry University School of Law in Orlando, founded in 1999--all Catholic schools. Televangelist Pat Robertson's 21-year-old evangelical Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., was one of the first of this new wave of schools, while Liberty is the youngest. All of them are either fully or provisionally accredited by the American Bar Association.

We can also add to the list the evangelical, but far smaller, Trinity Law School, founded as Simon Greenleaf School of Law, now part of Trinity International University.

While the country was otherwise occupied, Liberty University became the largest evangelical university in the country. Its law school was established in 2004, has a provisional accreditation from the ABA, and graduated its first class this year. Former U.S. House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, who is considering a run for president, was the graduation speaker in the days after Falwell's death, making national news. Gingrich invoked Christian nationalist themes in his speech, claiming, among other things, there exists

A growing culture of radical secularism [which] declares that the nation cannot publicly profess the truths on which it was founded.

It is worth noting that Pat Robertson's Regent University now has 4,000 students. The law school was established in 1986 and boasts former Attorney General John Ashcroft on the faculty. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made national news by giving the commencement address. (Do we see a trend here?)

The institutions created by the religious right will outlive their founders and will continue to train and deploy  ideologues into public life,just as their founders intended.  Nevertheless, the study of the religious right movement and the institutions it has created is still a rather marginal field, our best efforts here at Talk to Action, and such longstanding organizations as Political Research Associates, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Theocracy Watch not withstanding. It is long past time that major religious right institutions, and groups of institutions like law schools, be treated as "news" when they are actually news -- not years after they were founded and already influencing public life. Although periodic stories about the role and impact of such institutions, individually and collectively, would make good news sense too.

Finally, I want to note that what is really "scary" about The Chicago Tribune article, at least to me, is that so many in the news media, academia, as well as political and religious leaders are so far behind the actual news -- that we are learning that they have been operating all these years as if these institutions did not exist.  

Is the unwillingness to confront the issue even by people who are fully aware of the problem.

When Jeremy Scahill goes before a Congressional committee and lays out the whole Blackwater corruption story including Eric Prince's ties to Christian Nationalists, I suppose he figured folk would catch on. But when he was challenged by the GOP  member that perhaps the fact that Prince is a Christian is irrelevant to the story he caved and did not answer as he should have.

By allowing Prince to be portrayed as "just a Christian" one of the two major issues (and to my mind the greater one)was completely lost. Mega millions of dollars lost to corruption is terrible, but that he is a major player in a group that is virulently anti-democracy, anti-freedom, and wants to kill  large swaths of the American Public is the more relevant problem.

And Yes I am aware that they claim that they only wish to impose a totalitarian theocracy, that would just have a death by public stoning of folks guilty of their many crimes. And I am aware that the list of crimes includes apostasy, to obstinacy, and homosexuality to simple lust, but those "crimes" could be applied to most of the population, and in a takeover, would be applied broadly to any real or imagined opposition. I would expect such deaths to easily run into tens of millions.

That is the story Scahill should have laid out as a response to the "just a Christian" argument, and not just say "he is a very conservative Christian"

by FreeDem on Thu May 24, 2007 at 07:59:05 AM EST

>>so many in the news media, academia, as well as political and religious leaders are so far behind the actual news -- that we are learning that they have been operating all these years as if these institutions did not exist.<<

Absolutely. I presented this information to a church in Chicago, and it was the first time many of them had heard of it. People outside of the south sometimes don't understand how committed some of these deeply religious people are.

I am in Mississippi, and can easily see the rising tide of christian nationalism here. Excellent observations in the article.

by COinMS on Thu May 24, 2007 at 01:22:28 AM EST

"Jilting Justice For Jesus: Monica Goodling, Fundamentalist Education, and the Impact on Religious Civil Liberties", in which Tim Mitchell covers the impact of various Fundamentalist "feeder" schools ( Liberty and Regent University, and Patrick Henry College ).

by Bruce Wilson on Thu May 24, 2007 at 05:58:43 AM EST

Hee-hee . . . "reacting like we just saw Jaws for the first time." For what it's worth, I always hoped that Robertson, Falwell and Dobson were just animatronic puppets, because they always looked so fake . . . :-)

by Mitchell on Thu May 24, 2007 at 09:51:14 AM EST

that nobody knew?

You're right, Fred. It's pretty ding-danged scary that any awareness of such powerful institutions is considered to be a "marginal field."

As if there was much of an excuse, at this late date, for marginal awareness on the part of ... well, just about anybody.

by moiv on Tue May 29, 2007 at 03:38:11 AM EST

Ignorance and powerlessness are closely related; and unfortunately have been deeply engrained values to too many in public life in response to the religious right.  

That is, of course, one of the reasons this site exists.  This site is about change, and change does not come easily.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue May 29, 2007 at 01:10:53 PM EST

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