Prayer Offensive?

Pat Robertson Seeks Divine Intervention In Remaking Supreme Court, As Religious Right Presses For Roberts Confirmation

by Rob Boston

TV preacher Pat Robertson is so determined to get John G. Roberts on the Supreme Court that he’s calling for divine intervention.

Throughout August, Robertson sponsored what he called “Operation Supreme Court Freedom,” a prayer project intended to beseech God to replace current justices with “righteous judges.”

Robertson’s demands were very specific. On the Aug. 2 edition of his nationally broadcast “700 Club,” he called on God to speed Roberts through the Senate Judiciary Committee and to ensure that the committee’s deliberations went smoothly. Robertson also made it clear that he would appreciate it if the Almighty opened up a few more vacancies on the high court.

Robertson blasted the court for its rulings on abortion, gay rights and the “so-called” separation of church and state, telling his viewing audience, “Well, the time has come for somebody who says we’re not going to legislate from the bench, we’re going to abide by the Constitution. So the president has put forth one person, but there needs to be a couple more.”

Robertson then prayed: “Father, Lord, the government is in your hand, the rulers are in your hand. This great and mighty nation, Lord, stands as a beacon of hope to so many oppressed people. But Lord, if our foundations are crumbling, then this great beacon won’t stand for long. And we pray, Lord, that this one key area of our government might be dramatically changed, that we might see people who respect the Constitution and who respect the fundamental law of the land.

“Lord, give us righteous judges who will not try to legislate and dominate this society,” he continued. “Take control, Lord! We ask for additional vacancies on the court, and we ask for additional fine people like John Roberts. Lord, speed this hearing process; may there be no rancor. May the Senate comport itself as it should, and may we see peace, harmony and a rapid confirmation process. Do miracles, Lord. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized Robertson’s actions, telling The New York Times that Robertson’s plea for high court changes was “ghoulish.”

“The only way people leave the court these days is through death or infirmity,” he noted.

In a press statement, Lynn asserted, “Robertson seems to view God as a divine hit man, taking out justices or anyone else who gets in the way of the Religious Right agenda. I think most Americans don’t like to see God dragged into this kind of divisive and demagogic politics.”

Robertson was unrepentent, however. His spokeswoman told The New York Times he was only praying for retirements not deaths. She also claimed a victory, noting that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired after Robertson’s prayer was first posted.

This is not the first time Robertson has asked God to take action against the Supreme Court. In July of 2003, Robertson became incensed over a high court ruling striking down state laws banning sodomy. He posted a letter to supporters on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Web site, noting that some justices have health problems. Robertson asked supporters if they would “join with me and many others in crying out to our Lord to change the Court?”

The reaction to that was so strong Robertson had to call a press conference to deny that he had a death wish against any justices.

Lynn noted that Robertson has a history of controversial activity, whether it’s commanding hurricanes to go out to sea or smiting communities that incur his wrath. Robertson once speculated that Orlando might be hit by a meteor for allowing gay flags to be flown on city streets.

Robertson wasn’t the only Religious Right leader trying to give Roberts a push. The Family Research Council launched “Justice Sunday II,” an event at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville in mid August.

The event, which was beamed to fundamentalist churches all over America via satellite, featured an appearance by embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and a host of Religious Right leaders. It was held in part to demand that Roberts be confirmed for a seat on the court. (The first “Justice Sunday,” held last spring, bashed the federal courts for daring to uphold church-state separation, legal abortion and gay rights.)

At the same time, Religious Right groups worked to energize the grassroots. Their Web sites hosted petitions and e-mail drives to Senate offices.

The Christian Coalition’s site posted a “Supreme Court Nomination Petition” loaded with official-sounding “whereases” that concluded that the undersigned “will strongly support President Bush’s conservative nominees to the US Supreme Court, and that we will support efforts to end Senate obstruction and will fight for ‘up or down’ votes by the full Senate on ALL of the President’s judicial nominees.”

There was one problem, however: Although the site encourages supporters to circulate the petition to friends, neighbors and family, it gives no hint of what will ultimately be done with it.

Over at www.falwell.com, the Virginia TV preacher posted a bulletin asserting that his enemies were claiming that President George W. Bush had met with him, seeking his approval for Roberts. In fact, Falwell said, he received a courtesy call from the White House informing him of the nomination.

Falwell then blasted Roberts’ critics, including Americans United.

“Mr. Lynn would rather have a justice who would arrive on his first day on the job with a sledge hammer to dismantle the depictions of the Ten Commandments, Moses and Solomon that beautifully adorn the U.S. Supreme Court Building,” wrote Falwell.

A moment later he added, “The left also asserts that Judge Roberts is a wild-eyed, Bible-thumping anti-abortion fanatic.”

Some minor fissures in the right-wing façade occurred when the Los Angeles Times reported that Roberts, while an attorney in private practice, “worked behind the scenes for gay rights activists, and his legal expertise helped them persuade the Supreme Court to issue a landmark 1996 ruling protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation.”

Several Religious Right leaders were quick to excuse the Roberts action, saying that in the law firm he worked for, it was common for lawyers to provide pro bono help when asked.

“While this is certainly not welcome news to those of us who advocate for traditional values, it is by no means a given that John Roberts’ personal views are reflected in his involvement in the case,” Focus on the Family said in a statement.

Mat Staver, a Florida attorney who works with Falwell, seemed jarred by the news.

“We need more information to find out the facts behind what Judge Roberts did when he was working on the case,” Staver told Baptist Press. “But if in fact the story is true, it is clearly concerning because, according to the story, Judge Roberts did not hesitate to get involved to work on this case pro bono…. If in fact he did this, this would be contrary to everything I’ve read about him thus far. This was a state constitutional amendment passed by the people. For the court to strike that down, I felt, was judicial activism.”

But Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was more than willing to give Roberts a pass.

“I understand it was Judge Roberts’ standard practice to provide pro bono assistance when asked by colleagues at the firm in areas of his expertise, which certainly included constitutional law…,” Land said. “In other words, John Roberts did what lawyers have sworn an oath to do – that is, provide the best legal advice possible to their client, in this case a homosexual rights group that others in the firm had decided to represent.”

Continued Land, “Everything in Judge Roberts’ judicial philosophy reveals him to be an original-intent, strict-constructionist judge.”