The McConnell Nomination

Who's The Real Extremist?

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh is angry because several national groups, Americans United among them, have opposed the nomination of University of Utah law professor Michael McConnell to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At a Justice Department press conference Sept. 17, Dinh called Americans United and other groups opposed to McConnell "extremists" who "pander to paranoia and fabricate controversy."

The Justice Department has worked hard to portray McConnell as a pleasant moderate who would never think of mutilating the Constitution. The facts tell a different story and that's no fabrication.

Americans United has been aware of McConnell's unrelenting hostility toward the separation of church and state for a long time. McConnell loathes that principle so much that in 1995 he actually drafted a substitute for the First Amendment. His replacement for the handiwork of James Madison and other Founding Fathers would have required tax funding of religion and opened the door to official school prayer. He had the temerity to call it a "Religious Equality Amendment."

Over the years, McConnell has asserted that not only may government fund religion and religious schools, but that under certain conditions it may be required to do so. He insists that tax breaks can go to religious schools that engage in the rankest forms of racial discrimination. Even the Supreme Court's ultraconservative tag-team of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have never gone that far.

McConnell has called for a "radical" departure from the high court's church-state decisions. He insists that separation of church and state was never "plausible or attractive." He has blithely dismissed the concerns of people who have challenged abuses like school-sponsored prayer and government display of religious symbols. He sees no problem with teaching creationism in public schools because it challenges "Darwinian orthodoxy." When the Supreme Court in 2000 struck down a Texas public school's practice of allowing majority-rule on prayer at athletic events, McConnell branded the ruling "silly but destructive."

According to McConnell, Supreme Court justices who dare to uphold church-state separation have engaged in "extremist rhetoric." He thinks the current court has not overturned enough precedents.

McConnell would turn back the clock on religious freedom and throw out more than 50 years of church-state law. In his perfect world, Americans would be forced to pay for religious worship, and in some cases the government's failure to extend tax aid to religion would be considered discrimination. Children could be required to listen to prayers and other forms of religious worship in public schools, under the guise of free speech.

For the good of the nation, the Senate must reject the McConnell nomination.