Religious conservatives' selective memory on their own “anti-Christian” comments

Despite accusing Democrats who have filibustered a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees of being anti-Christian or anti-Catholic, prominent religious conservatives such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins now deny that they have ever made such accusations. Their backpedaling followed criticism of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) participation in the April 24 "Justice Sunday" telecast, an event organized by the FRC to protest Democrats' use of the filibuster.

As a guest on the April 25 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Dobson said: “I mean, you'll notice that they never quote people who come from our point of view. We have never said that those who disagree with us are un-Christian and un-American. That's just unconscionable to say things like that without saying where it occurred.” Perkins similarly denied ever adopting such a position. An April 26 Knight Ridder article on “Justice Sunday” quoted Perkins insisting, “We are not saying that people who disagree with us are not people of faith. We have not said that. We will never say that.” Conservative Christian radio host the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, rallied to Perkins's defense on the April 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. Responding to criticism of Frist's participation in “Justice Sunday” by the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, Land similarly denied that opponents of the filibuster had accused Democrats of being anti-Christian:

LAND: They never said that they [filibuster supporters] were not American or not Christian. Tony Perkins started off the -- I've seen the broadcast. He started off by saying, “We are not saying that people who disagree with us are not people of faith. We haven't said that and we never will.”

But promotional materials for “Justice Sunday” made just such attacks. In a letter to supporters describing the event, Perkins wrote: “As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism.” In addition, Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's vice president of public policy, accused Democratic senators currently opposing President Bush's judicial nominees of anti-Catholic bigotry. “As a Catholic, I would think the senator [Ken Salazar (D-CO)] would be especially alarmed about the anti-Catholicism of some of his colleagues,” Minnery said. And Dobson himself accused Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, of attacking people of faith. “Patrick Leahy is a 'God's people' hater. I don't know if he hates God, but he hates God's people,” Dobson said [Daily Oklahoman, 10/23/04].

In addition to casting opponents of Bush's judicial nominees as anti-Christian, these groups have accused Democrats of prejudice against people of the Christian faith. On Perkins' April 18 radio broadcast, he accused Democratic senators of anti-Catholic bigotry: “It was very evident with the Catholic nominees that anybody who had strong religious convictions on the issue of abortion, they [Democratic senators] were going to filibuster.” The slogan for “Justice Sunday,” was “Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith,” implying that Democratic senators who have filibustered a handful of Bush's judicial nominees did so because the nominees held a religiously motivated opposition to abortion rights.

These false denials have found at least one sympathetic ear in the media: The Washington Times editorial page, which suggested that Democrats falsely claimed that FRC and Focus on the Family had accused them of being anti-Christian. An April 26 Times editorial titled “The Democrats' intimidation tactics,” claimed that “Democrats have depicted the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family ... as demonizing liberal Democratic senators who use the filibuster to block judicial nominations as 'anti-Christian.'”