Religious Right heavyweights are rallying around former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, despite the ethical whirlwind that prodded him to abandon his re-election bid.
In the face of criminal indictments revolving around one of his political fund-raising committees and his association with infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Religious Right leaders were quick to praise DeLay’s work in Congress and to mourn his announcement in April that he will leave Congress when his term expires.
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, in an April 5 e-mail to supporters, said DeLay’s announcement was “unwelcome.”
Perkins went on to name DeLay the “architect behind the conservative takeover of Congress” and a “staunch ally on our issues.”
Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, told The New York Times that DeLay was “the one member in leadership who absolutely put the movement ahead of everything else.”
Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship Ministries, called DeLay “one of the great leaders in Congress in modern times.”
William J. Murray concurred, calling DeLay a devoted advocate for the conservative movement. In fact, Murray, who heads a group called the Religious Freedom Coalition, dispatched a staffer to deliver flowers to DeLay’s office not long after the congressman announced his retirement.
In an e-mail to supporters, Murray lauded DeLay’s work, saying that there is a “big difference between a true believer and a congressman who ‘votes right.’ With the departure of Tom DeLay the Republican leadership lacks an out in front standard bearer of the colors.”
TV preacher Pat Robertson invited DeLay to discuss his decision on the April 4 “700 Club” broadcast. Before asking DeLay to comment, he told the congressman that he was “saddened” by the announcement.
DeLay said that after “a lot of time praying and fasting, it was obvious to me that the decision I made was the right decision because I have no doubt in my mind about it. Doors are opening, not closing. I feel totally at peace, I have a sense of joy about it.”
Robertson responded by lauding DeLay as “a stalwart for conservative causes” and assuring him that the “prayers of many are with you and your wife, Christine, as you seek what’s next for you.”
Robertson told his audience that he is confident “the conservatives” would miss DeLay because “he knew how to get legislation through and he carried the ball for the president’s program on many things.”
During DeLay’s 11 years in leadership, Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposed his efforts to advance the Religious Right agenda through legislation and on a number of occasions exposed the congressman’s close ties to the Religious Right.
For example, in 2005 Americans United gave The New York Times and other media outlets an audio tape of DeLay’s speech before a closed-door meeting with Religious Right leaders, including James Dobson and the FRC’s Perkins.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of the Terri Schiavo tragedy. DeLay assured the Religious Right gathering that he would continue to support a federal law that would overturn a Florida judge’s ruling to disconnect feeding tubes from Schiavo, who had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years.
“One thing that God has brought us is Terri Schiavo,” DeLay told the gathering, “to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America. This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others.”
Also during that meeting, DeLay attacked federal tax law that prohibits houses of worship from engaging in partisan politics.
In 2002, Americans United reported on DeLay’s appearance before a “Worldview Weekend” conference at a Baptist church in Texas. A group that espouses a “biblical worldview for our government” hosted the gathering. (See “Weekend Warriors,” June 2002 Church & State.)
At the event, DeLay proclaimed that his political life and work were divinely controlled.
“Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation,” said DeLay. “Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world, only Christianity.
“[God] has been walking with me through an incredible journey,” DeLay later told the gathering, “and it all comes to worldview. He is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me. He is working with me.”
In an interview with Time magazine regarding his decision to retire from Congress, DeLay said he would remain devoted to the Religious Right cause and that he had spent a “lot of time in prayer” before reaching his decision to leave the House.
DeLay also reiterated his belief that evangelical Christian values are under attack in America.
“The American family’s under attack, the culture war is going on,” DeLay told Time. “I’ve been fighting that and I will continue to fight that….”
In related news:
• A normally ultra-conservative Religious Right leader has urged a federal judge to go easy on Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist embroiled in an influence-buying scandal. Steve Baldwin, executive director of the secretive Council for National Policy, wrote to U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and pleaded for leniency.
“We’re all sinners,” Baldwin wrote in March. “Why can’t a sentence involve something creative such as undertaking some needed task for a poor community?”
Huck declined to take the advice, sentencing Abramoff to five years in prison.