Christian Right Regroups for a New Attack

 WASHINGTON, D.C.—Frustrated by slow going on the marriage amendment and confused by Bush's increasingly enigmatic stance on faith-based social welfare, the Christian Right is regrouping for a new attack.

To the outside world, things couldn't look better for religious conservatives. Yesterday's nit-picking arguments in the Supreme Court over whether and where and what parts of the Ten Commandments could be posted in public spaces were swept aside by the crisp comments of Justice Antonin Scalia, who at one point told Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (who was arguing for a Ten Commandments display in his state), "'Our laws come from God.' If you don't believe it sends that message, you're kidding yourself." At another point, Scalia declared: "It is a profoundly religious message, but it's shared by the vast majority of the people . . . It seems to me the minority has to be tolerant of the majority's view."

Scalia, of course, is locked in a political struggle with Justice Clarence Thomas for the hearts and minds of conservatives who are debating which of the two to support for chief justice. He has become the Christian Right's charismatic champion here, but whether he has the political weight to push the fight forward is another matter.

Meanwhile, religious conservatives momentarily have shifted their attention away from the stalled campaign to ban same-sex marriage and instead are concentrating on getting behind a bill that would allow religious leaders to openly endorse political candidates. As Jim Backlin of the Christian Coalition explained to The Hill newspaper yesterday, the theory is that such a bill would give religious bigs a chance to promote candidates who support the marriage amendment from the pulpit, where they exercise considerable sway.

Republicans seem to think passage of this legislation will work to their advantage among black voters, since opponents complained to the IRS that black churches were breaking the law by openly supporting candidates. Not to mention there was some evidence of an anti-Kerry drift among black churchgoers last November because of his backing of both abortion and gay rights.

The bill is sponsored by North Carolina Republican congressman Walter Jones, and it is receiving support from black Democratic politicians, notably Walter Fauntroy, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Black politicians are quoting Martin Luther King as proof of its worth. Donna Brazile, the reigning black Dem operative in D.C., is alarmed enough at the GOP's efforts to recruit black churchgoers that she is speaking out publicly about the effect it could have on upcoming elections.

In another area of concern to religious conservatives, the House gave its support to a measure that would provide federal job training funds to faith-based groups, even though such groups continue to hire only workers of a specific religious creed. In addition, senate Republicans yesterday promised to support a big anti-poverty drive that stresses partnerships with faith-based groups. It also would provide tax incentives to increase charitable giving. Overall, GOP politicians seem to think Bush has all but dumped his much ballyhooed faith-based initiative of 2001. But as Pennsylvania conservative Rick Santorum lamely promised at a breakfast yesterday, they'll work "to do the best [they] can."


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