Religious Right leader James C. Dobson is on the warpath. Under the aegis of his new political outfit, Focus on the Family Action, the religious broadcaster is holding a series of rallies around the country this fall.
The ostensible purpose is to rally support for a federal marriage amendment. But many people think the tour is intended to increase the turn-out of religious conservatives in November and elect Dobson allies to public office. If the kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 6 is any indication, the wall of separation between church and state is in for some serious bashing.
According to Citizenlink, an email alert sent to Focus on the Family supporters, about 6,000 people attended the rally. During the event, Dobson demanded state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools and restrictions on abortion.
For the past 25 years, Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other have been arguing that Americans are so immoral that the nation will surely collapse at any moment. Court enforcement of church-state separation usually gets the blame for this state of affairs.
Dobson is now pushing that line as well. In Charlotte, he told the crowd, "The issues before us are so very critical. I mean, it's now or never. I really believe that the institution of the family is going to survive, or fail, in the next year -and probably this year. It is hanging on the ropes, literally. And so many people of faith, so many good people have sat around - sometimes myself included - for 35 years and let everything we care about erode away. And it is time to say, 'Enough is enough.'"
FOF reported that Dobson then asked the crowd if they wanted to see prayer and Bible reading in schools, posting of the Ten Commandments and an end to "partial-birth" abortion. The crowd responded with "thunderous applause."
According to the FOF account, Dobson undertook the exercise "as a simple illustration of how out-of-step such judicial tyrants are with the American people."
"I hope they're listening in Washington," Dobson said, "because that is the sentiment all across this country. Every one of those issues that I just listed is a
70-percenter. Seventy percent or more of the people feel that way. This is where the American people are; so the question is, why isn't that the law of the land?"
Dobson's claim for 70 percent support for these positions is debatable, but even if it were true, it would prove only that many Americans do not understand that the Bill of Rights is not a majority-rules document. Its purpose is to put some issues beyond the reach of the crowd, thus ensuring that our core freedoms are not diminished by momentary passions whipped up by demagogues.
Consider civil rights. In the Jim Crow South of the 1950s, a majority of whites backed segregation, but the courts struck it down anyway because it was offensive to constitutional principles. Through his base pandering, Dobson demonstrates that he simply doesn't understand that sometimes a judge's job is to make tough calls - decisions that are not always popular but that are in line with what the Constitution demands.
The passage of time often vindicates unpopular rulings. Forty years after the civil rights struggle, who does our nation honor as heroes - the leaders who boldly stood up to herd mentality, or those who meekly followed it?
It would also be interesting to hear Dobson explain how it is that his favorite bogeyman, the federal courts, got so bad in the first place. It can't be the liberals' fault; after all, most federal judges were appointed by Presidents Ronald W. Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. And that awful Supreme Court that Dobson hates so much? Seven of its nine members were appointed by Republican presidents.
It's quite possible that 40 years from now, Dobson - if he's remembered at all - will be viewed as just another bile-spewing reactionary who tried to drag America back to the 19th century while using religion as a club to attack others. Even as a footnote, that's a sad way to go down in the history books.