In the immediate wake of President Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the US Supreme Court, two of the Christian right’s major interest groups, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, planned a sequel to Justice Sunday, the spectacular rally they had held in April to promote Bush’s controversial federal judiciary appointments. In anticipation of a battle fit for Christian soldiers, the planners of Justice Sunday II went big, booking a Nashville, Tennessee, megachurch and arranging the broadcast of their event to millions of homes and thousands of churches across the country through SkyAngel and the Trinity Broadcasting Network. When Justice Sunday II arrived, however, its intended galvanizing message seemed to have evaporated in the sweltering Tennessee night.
The event reached its climax when William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights stomped onstage determined to deliver the evening’s most bombastic attack line. Donohue was going to tell the crowd exactly who their enemy was, in no uncertain terms. He was going to name names. And so, in booming basso profundo, Donohue denounced “the atheist, anti-Catholic bigot” Christopher Hitchens. His salvo was greeted with befuddled silence. If there were a name with which the country-music-capital crowd had less familiarity, Donohue couldn’t conjure it. For all they knew, if they knew anything about Hitchens, the neoconservative ex-Trotskyite bibulous Brit author of Letters to a Young Contrarian had produced a how-to manual in the style of James Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline” for Christian parents to give to a naughty teenager evading an abstinence program.
Unfazed by the utter silence greeting his startling exorcism of the demon Hitchens, Donohue trundled ahead like a performance artist at the Greenwich Village Cafe Wha?. He declared that he studied under “the NYU Marxist Sidney Hook,” evoking further deep bafflement in the crowd (NY Who?), then proposed “grief counselors” for liberals and finally posed a rhetorical question: “You remember that Bob Dylan song?” With that, the packed Baptist church turned into a Quaker meeting. It appeared that the Christian militants didn’t recall “The Times, They Are A-Changin’.” Maybe Donohue should have tried something from Dylan’s early country phase, like “Lay, Lady, Lay.”
Zell Miller followed Donohue at the microphone. The turncoat former Democratic governor of Georgia had been the keynote speaker at last year’s Republican National Convention, where he shouted that Democrats wanted to arm the military with “spitballs.” Now he engaged in what seemed like a game show whose point appeared to be to yell at the top of his lungs as many mixed metaphors in the shortest time possible. Liberalism, Miller said, had “kidnapped the baby Jesus’s halo,” “treat[ed] marriage like an outdated Hula-Hoop” and “hauled off” the Constitution “in a garbage truck.” He made no references to Dylan songs.
Next up was Charles Colson, the convicted Watergate dirty-trickster turned evangelical Christian prison pastor, who humbly claimed that Justice Sunday II was doing nothing but “giving voice” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy. Colson pleaded for charity and understanding before reverting to type. “The same people who supported King are against us,” he said. That appeal to antipathy drew one of the few bursts of spontaneous applause of the evening.
Indeed, Justice Sunday II was about a lot of things–still-simmering resentment against the civil rights movement, for example–but it was hardly about John Roberts. As Donohue declared, “We need to go beyond Roberts.”