HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 30, 2007
Our Faith-Based Top Cop Addresses
Southern Baptist Leaders on Religious Freedom

John R. Guthrie


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales came to great public attention in the Senate Judiciary hearings on April 19. As I listened to the snickers and occasional guffaws and catcalls of the gallery in response to Gonzales’ less than forthright answers, a lesser known matter came to mind: Attorney General Gonzales recently attended a convocation of “Southern Baptist leaders” at the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville, Tennessee. He spoke on “defending the religious liberties of US citizens.” In making his case to the Southern Baptists, the AG pointed with pride to a recent decision by the Supremes allowing senior adults to pray and sing hymns in a government funded senior center (a senior participant who was a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation brought the case). 

“Why” Gonzales continued, “Should it be permissible for an employee standing around a water cooler to declare ‘Tiger Woods is God,’ but a firing offense for him to say ‘Jesus is Lord?’” (Don’t get me wrong. I always thought of the Tiger as an admirable character and an exceptional athlete, but God? Does anybody besides the AG really say that? DOJ employees who’ve had very limited educational opportunities but who are loyal Bushies, perhaps?) Be that as it may, according to an article in their house organ, The Baptist Courier, the assembled Southern Baptists Imams gave a “vocal affirmation” to Gonzales’ strange utterance.

Vocal affirmation: Being that I started off as a raised-right Southern Baptist boy, I’ve enjoyed many a spirited Baptist meeting. Vocal affirmations means the audience cries out such things as “Amen! Or perhaps even Glory! Praise the Lord! Yes, Jesus!“ It usually means the speaker is on a major roll. These are the Southern Baptist equivalents of the Arabic Inshallah --   “God willing,”  the sort of thing an enthusiastic fundamentalist in Iraq cries out as he’s arming an IED to use against an American convoy.

“These,” the Attorney General continued, in reference to the impropriety of Tiger Woods getting bigger play around the water cooler than Baptist God, “are the kinds of contradictions we are trying to address.” The AG continued to boost religious freedom by explaining to Southern Baptists how to file “religious freedom” complaints. “I am here to ask the Southern Baptist Convention, and all of you in this room, for your help. The Department of Justice has many tools to protect religious freedoms in this country, and we are using them. But even with all of our passion and our dedication to this cause, we cannot do it alone….I am so very glad to be here among men and women who understand and share our commitment.”

Coming from a leading official of the current faith–based administration, this is about as comforting as Bush’s “Clean Air Act,” a construction artfully designed to gut anti-pollution laws.   

Back to the AG’s hearing of April 19th for a moment: By the time I lost count, Gonzales repeated “I don’t recall” or “I don’t know” over 100 times and in so doing exhibited all the grace and candor of a cocaine whore on the witness stand. At times he was still caught in outright misrepresentations. E.g. Senator Mark Pryor noted previously that Gonzales “lied” to him, adding that “When he lies to me, he lies to the people I represent.” Senator Schumer, in commenting on this, went so far as to use Pryor's characterization "lying" during the hearing. Our agitated chief law enforcement officer, though he dodged and feinted like a chicken thief dodging birdshot, had no defense. As the hearing adjourned, spectator’s in the gallery began singing "nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, hey goodbye." After the AG left, senators from both sides of the aisle questioned his candor.

For Alberto Gonzales to be taking charge of “Freedom of Religion” by currying favor with, of all people, the grand mullahs of the Southern Baptist Convention is as comforting as appointing Ayatullah Khomeini as commander of the Israeli Defense Force. Let us fervently hope that our faith-based Attorney General will at some point in the near future be replaced by a reality-based top cop.


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