Fred Thompson's Christian Nationalist Pander
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 10:36:28 PM EST
When prospective GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson auditioned at a meeting of the secretive, far right Council for National Policy (CNP), he didn't have to wonder which buttons to push. The CNP has, since 1981, been a key conservative movement leadership network, dominated by the religious right. But as a man who entered electoral politics as moderate, he has been at some pains to establish his conservative bona fides. Just today, as a matter of fact, Richard Viguerie, one of the founders of the CNP issued a press release denouncing Thompson, warning:

...Thompson may be a lot like Bush. Remember when Bush was running, a lot of good people thought he was a conservative.

Boy, were they taken in!

We've got to make sure we don't go down that road again--not with Thompson or anyone else.

Nevertheless, these days if you want to show the religious right that you are one of them, you have to show that you share their Christian nationalism. Back in May, Thompson did just that -- and quickly made a transcript of his remarks available to The National Review Online:

Our founders established an independent federal judiciary to decide cases, not social policy. Yet more and more that is exactly what it is doing. Roe v. Wade is a classic example. And nowhere is it more apparent than with regard to the issue of church and state.

Many federal judges seem intent on eliminating God from the public schools and the public square in ways that would astound our founding fathers. We never know when a five to four Supreme Court decision will uphold them. They ignore the fact that the founders were protecting the church from the state and not the other way around.

We can see lots of red flags fluttering in the breezes of Thompson's rhetoric. But I want to focus on just two.

The demonization of federal judges has a long and ignoble history going back to the segregationist definace of then Alabama Governor George Wallace. Thompson, like fellow GOP contender Mitt Romney, is situating himself squarely in the judiciary-baiting tradition of Wallace.

On July 4, 1964, George Wallace announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president. He declared:

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.

The second point I want to highlight is Thompson's tired canard that the "founders were protecting the church from the state and not the other way around."  The underlying argument refers to Thomas Jefferson's famous letter to the Danbury Baptists.  Some Christian nationalists claim that Jefferson mean that the wall between church and state was to be "one directional." The best known proponent of this view is Christian nationalist propagandist and longtime Texas GOP official David Barton -- whose claim about the "one directional wall" was directly debunked more than ten years ago by Brent Walker of the Joint Baptist Committee for Religious Liberty -- but it lives on as a Christian nationalist talking point and the stuff of urban legend.

Barton mentions church-state separation as flowing from Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association. He asserts that later in the letter Jefferson made it clear that he wanted only a "one directional wall" to prevent the government from harming religion, not to prevent religion from capturing the government.

A reading of the entire letter belies any suggestion that Thomas Jefferson thought it was "one directional." There is absolutely nothing in the letter even to hint that that is the case. Indeed, to the degree that Jefferson's notion was one-directional, most scholars would argue that he was more concerned with the church harming the state than vice versa. (Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law, p. 1159.) Of course, Barton completely ignores Roger William's reference 150 years earlier to the "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of church and the wilderness of the world." (Perry Miller, Roger Williams: His Contribution to the American Tradition, p. 89.) It is clear that Williams, a Baptist pioneer, saw the advantage to the church of a clear boundary erected between itself and the state. More than that, he thought this wall was mandated by the very principles of Christianity. To that end, he wrote:

"All civil states with officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are ... essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of Spiritual, or Christian, State and worship ... An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." (Stokes, supra, p. 199.)

Thus, Williams and Jefferson understood the benefits to both the church and state of keeping those two entities separate and distinct.

Walker's classic debunking of Barton has never been rebutted. Those who continue to repeat the talking point are engaged in a coarse kind of pandering. The federal courts have long functioned as the guarantors of our constitutional rightsand enforced advances in civil equality. I suspect that Thompson knows and appreciates this. But in his attacks on the federal judiciary, he made transparent-if-coded appeals to the old guard of white supremacism and its kissing cousin, religious supremacism.

Joe Conn, writing at the Wall of Separation blog had a good take down of Thompson's CNP pander:

Here are the facts: There are no federal judges who are trying to "eliminate God" from the public schools or the public square. The Supreme Court's decisions on religion and public education simply say that parents, not politicians or educators, get to decide what prayers children learn and what holy scriptures they study devotionally.

That's keeping government out of our personal lives, a concept that ought to resonate with real conservatives as well as liberals. Far from being astounded, Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would be thrilled that the country is upholding freedom of conscience.

Thompson is also wrong about the intent of the First Amendment. It was meant to protect the church from the state and to keep the church from controlling the state. In Jefferson and Madison's day, the danger came from both directions. Back then (as now) state persecution of dissenters came at the behest of powerful state-aligned religious interests. For example, in Virginia, Baptist preachers were jailed because the state-established Anglican Church wanted its privileges protected.

Conn also reports that Thompson was to be introduced at the CNP meeting by none other than Richard Land, a leader in the fundamentalist cabal running the Southern Baptist Convention -- who is now positioning himself as moderate.

Thompson made sure that the leaders and activists of the religious right got the message. But other than veteran religious right watchers like Joe Conn, these things barely get noticed let alone effectively addressed. Conn is right. It is rediculous for Thompson to assert that judges  are trying to eliminate God from the public schools or the public square. It is also rediculous for Thompson to assert that the founders intended for the state to stay out of the church, and not the other way around. Mainstream pols and pundits ought to be able to make short work of stuff like this. But for whatever reason, they don't.

If we are serious about regaining political ground lost to the religious right, and advancing civil and constitutional rights in our time, more of us are going to need to get much better at rebutting the Christian nationalist talking points being adopted by candidates for federal office, including president. The struggle for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.

I wrote recently that

we can tell the story of our nation with a strong, clear narrative of our own: one that discusses the role of religion in public life; one that tells the moving story of overcoming religious persecution and oppression; one that explains why there is no mention of God in the Constitution; one that appreciates the meaning of separation of church and state as a necessary prerequisite for religious freedom.

In order for us to be effective in doing this, we need to be able to speak with the person-to-person persuasiveness that comes from solid knowledge and authentic conviction. This is  necessary to build the political coalitions we need to meet the challenges of our time. With this understanding of history, we will have a powerful story to tell; we will be able to challenge the bogus, revisionist narrative of Christian nationalism and craft a national ethos of respect for different views and religious pluralism.  

The development of our own story, rooted in the values of the framers of the Constitution, will illuminate the roots of religious freedom and the right of individual conscience in the United States.

[Updated and reprised from my post by the same title in June]

in it many forms: revisionist history taught in public and private schools; bogus contitutional interpretations by judges and judicial candidates; statements by candidates like Thompson make this a matter that goes to the core of our national identity. We can reasonably expect to be dealing with it directly, and indirectly for a long time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 03:10:47 AM EST

 The old proverb that claimed all roads led to Rome tends to apply to Barton.  Just about all the advocates of "Christian Nation", Peter Marshall Jr., James Kennedy, Scarborough, and etc.  use Barton for their resource.  I have yet to see the story posted about what Barton said about Federal judges on television. He stated they were anti-Christs spoken of in the New Testament.  A sort of apocalyptic Left Behind comparison linking them to Satan himself.  I hope Joe Conn or AU can get hold of the tape of the broadcast.  I alerted them to such.

by wilkyjr on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 09:20:21 AM EST

Was when he gave a long speech at the meeting of these major stakeholders of the Republican party.  Not a word was ever, to my knowledge, leaked from the group of what he said, and NOT ONE of these folk gave a speech at the Republican Convention, despite the obvious fact that that was most of his voters.

What he said may not have been leaked to the rest of us but it obviously got out to his voters, and his actions since have said more than words what the speech was about.

by FreeDem on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 12:00:36 PM EST

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