United States of Jesus

The folks who are "reclaiming America for Christ" are pushing an agenda for a Taliban-like state where Scripture is law

Kennedy followers, however, might not have to wait that long. The president has nominated some of the most conservative judges for important federal benches, and the Senate's slim majority of Republicans is ready to put gavels in their hands. The confirmation of several of the most right-leaning has been held up by Democrats through filibuster.

Among them is Justice Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court, whom Bush nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Owen was originally rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee when Democrats were in the majority. When Republicans regained control after the 2002 election, the president renominated her. Owen has been strongly anti-abortion as a member of Texas' highest court and put forth an argument that would have made it virtually impossible for a minor to receive the court's permission to receive an abortion without her parents' permission.

Another nominee, Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr., also warms the hearts of theocrats. Speaking about Roe v. Wade, Pryor told the Wall Street Journal in 1997, "I will never forget January 22, 1973, the day seven members of our highest court ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn children." He endorsed a state bill that would have allowed anti-abortion lawyers to represent the state against minors who sought permission from the court to have an abortion without parental permission. He's argued for the use of the death penalty for mentally retarded Death Row inmates.

Local pastor O'Neal Dozier preaches that gays make God vomit. In his spare time, he helps Jeb Bush select Broward County's judges.
Local pastor O'Neal Dozier preaches that gays make God vomit. In his spare time, he helps Jeb Bush select Broward County's judges.

The end game, of course, is to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with the ideological likes of Owens and Pryor. Staver evokes Martin Luther King Jr. when he waxes lyrical over that day: "I have a dream that we'll have not only lawyers and attorneys that understand Jesus Christ and the gospel but will serve on the Supreme Court of America."

Upon this Rock

Given the Kennedy followers' fixation with the judiciary, it's no surprise that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is the most anticipated speaker at the Reclaiming America conference. They've been rallying around him since 2001, when he covertly placed a 5,300-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. Three groups, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed suit to remove "Roy's Rock." Kennedy's ministry, which filmed the covert installation, has been selling videotapes to help Moore with his legal expenses. (Pryor also has been one of Moore's most vociferous defenders.)

A federal court ordered the monument removed, but Moore refused. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Moore's request to review the case, and last week a state judicial ethics panel removed Moore from the Alabama Supreme Court for not complying with the court's order.

It's not just Moore's views on blending church and state that make him a hero to theocrats. Moore also hits a sweet spot with his radical views on gays. In denying a gay parent custody of a child in one court case, he wrote that homosexuality is "an inherent evil, an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it," though he went on to do so: "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature." Government has the power "to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution," he wrote.

Moore looks almost bashful as the crowd stands and claps at length as he takes the podium. He looks younger than he usually appears in television news clips. He's calm, almost high-spirited as he describes the "40 years we've wandered in the desert." That's roughly how long ago Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote the court's decision that said organized school prayer violated the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.

As for his own mission to blend Christianity and government, he says: "It's not about me. It's not about the monument. It's not about religion." The issue instead is: "Can the state acknowledge God?" As far as Moore is concerned, government must recognize God because American institutions, especially the courts, were founded on the belief in a higher authority than the state. Thus, he reasons, there exists a "moral law" the state cannot alter.

As for critics who say a Christian government would infringe on the rights of, say, Buddhists and Hindus, Moore says that's not a problem because God has guaranteed the right to worship. "Because God said that relationship is between you and me, not government," he says. "Because God said you don't judge by what people think; we judge by what they do. It doesn't matter if you're a Jew or an atheist; if you've stolen, you get punished."

Moore's idea of what to do with his rock: "Offer the monument to Congress, and let them display it in Congress. Why is that important? When we put it in Congress, the people will restore the balance of power and will tell the federal courts that they don't have the last word."

What Happened?

The gathered believers will no doubt take Moore's recommendation seriously. Kennedy knows that. Not one to hog the spotlight, Kennedy lets others do most of the talking, but he does set a fire under the faithful during his one lengthy sermon. His optimism is undiminished. "We're told by the media what this world is like," he says, but it's not the truth. "Under the surface, it's much more beautiful." With about 200,000 conversions to Christianity each day around the world, the numbers are on the believers' side, he asserts. "I think that's something to really be encouraged about. What's going to happen ten or 15 years from now?"

Some election Tuesday not far in the future, he predicts, America will experience a sea change. "And the media are going to look up and say, 'What happened?' And the answer will be," Kennedy says as he points his finger at the multitude gathered, "you happened."

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