Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should cancel his scheduled appearance before a Republican-focused right-wing group that seeks the ouster of President Bill Clinton and takes controversial stands on issues that come before the court.
That's the view of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog organization that monitors the far right.
Thomas is scheduled to give the Lincoln Day dinner speech at the Claremont Institute's Lincoln Day Colloquium Feb. 9 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Institute is a California-based organization with ties to the Republican Party and a history of stands -- sometimes shrill and insensitive -- on issues such as the Clinton impeachment, civil rights, gay rights and church-state separation.
Said Americans United Executive Barry W. Lynn, "As a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Thomas has a high responsibility to appear nonpartisan and impartial on issues that come before him. I call on him to cancel this speech and thus begin a clear disengagement from this group."
Observed Lynn, "I don't believe any justice should celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday by dining with a right-wing group that tries to limit legal protections for minorities."
AU's Lynn sent a letter to Thomas today urging him to cancel the speech.
The Claremont Institute has strong ties to Republican Party leaders and funders. The group is funded in part by a foundation chaired by Richard Mellon Scaife, a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman who has spent millions on anti-Clinton projects.
In addition, the group files friend-of-the-court briefs and disseminates material on issues such as civil rights, gay rights and church-state separation.
Church-State Separation: An Institute essay calls the wall of separation between church and state "imaginary." A separate column recommends strategies for getting around the Supreme Court's ban on mandatory religious worship in public schools. Claremont opposed in court atheist youngsters' attempts to win admission to the Boy Scouts.
Civil Rights: The Institute enthusiastically backed California's Prop. 209, which eliminated affirmative action in the state, and helped defend the measure in court. Racial issues are sometimes addressed in insensitive and shrill terms. Institute staffer Bruce Herschensohn wrote an essay in which he questioned why African-Americans and Asian-Americans take pride in their ethnic identities. "My grandparents came from Europe," Herschensohn wrote, "but I wouldn't think of saying I'm a 'European-American.'"
The Institute is also promoting a video of a Charlton Heston speech at an Institute event in which he suggests that the "God-fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian middle class" is under assault in America. Heston spoke glowingly of Americans who "prefer the America they built, where you could pray without feeling naive, love without being kinky, sing without profanity, be white without feeling guilty, own a gun without shame..."
Gay Rights: Last year the Institute sponsored a conference on homosexuality, during which speakers asserted that being gay is a psychological disorder that can be cured through reparative therapy. Right-wing columnist Don Feder denounced homosexuality as a "perversion" and said the "fate of our civilization hinges" on the outcome of the gay rights controversy.
Other Issues: The Institute is involved in a broad range of legal and social issues. For example, it runs an anti-gun control group called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership. Institute President Larry P. Arnn published an op-ed calling for the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows the federal government to collect income taxes.
Concluded Americans United's Lynn, "Inevitably, people will construe Thomas' appearance and speech at the Claremont Institute's premier national event as a high-level endorsement of the group and its goals. I can only conclude that it is inappropriate for Thomas to address an organization like this one."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.