The sacred right Americans will not surrender
“The Hammer” earned his nickname because he relishes pounding the opposition, like a quarry master pulverizing sandstone into granules. Tom DeLay, “The Hammer” and deposed GOP Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, always radiated smug assurance trouncing his enemies. Now he and his cozy lobbyist Jack Abramoff are feeling the force of federal justice hammered against them. What annoys many of their critics is the tactic Abramoff and DeLay use to get their way. They wrap around themselves “Old Glory” and religious faith, a potent weapon that wipes out opposition. Abramoff, an orthodox Jew, founded a now-defunct yeshiva and two kosher restaurants that went under. DeLay started out in Texas as an exterminator. Elected to Congress in 1984, he began his career eliminating opponents through poisoning politics. During this time of euphoric conservative power in the Reagan presidency, politicians aligned with the religious right needed to wear a badge of sincerity. They came to Jesus by becoming born again. So DeLay quit quaffing hard liquor. Like Angelo in Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” he turned into a strident moralist. Angelo aimed to clean up the town the Duke of Vienna recruited him to govern. Angelo smugly sorted out sinners from saints, ruthlessly meting out justice stripped of mercy. Shakespeare describes him as “outward-sainted,” rotten on the inside but seemingly pure in motive. Angelo’s blood ran as if it were “snow-broth.” His sanctimonious edicts chilled moderation. Angelo assumed he knew right from wrong and didn’t want any truth to confuse him.In a similar way, DeLay armed himself with the “absolute truth” Jesus bestowed. With invincible smugness, he battled against the “isms” that make America look like Shakespeare’s decadent Vienna. DeLay railed against feminism, relativism, secular humanism and modernism. He resolutely barked out a cocky analysis of the Columbine High School massacre. Lax gun control laws didn’t force these demented teens to go on their rampage. What caused this tragedy was day care, teens using birth control and godless evolution capturing impressionable minds. DeLay’s convictions came across as slick, too strong or spiritually on target, depending on his audience.DeLay’s smugness backfired when he forced Congress to interfere in Terri Schiavo’s family’s tragedy. When nearly 20 justices, most of them conservative jurists Republicans appointed, blocked DeLay’s intrusive campaign to rescue Terri Schiavo, he became enraged. Leaders smugly aligned with DeLay to save Schiavo from being murdered also blundered badly. Bill Frist, the Senate’s Presbyterian Majority Leader and physician, made a silly diagnosis. He swore that Schiavo displayed signs of awareness as he viewed grainy videotape of her responses. The autopsy showed Schiavo’s brain had deteriorated to the point that only the cortex stub remained. President George W. Bush grandstanded by flying in the dead of night back to Washington from his Crawford, Texas, ranch to sign a stay of execution. Focus on the Family’s James Dobson pontificated that society had become so crass that now we resort to killing innocent people like Schiavo. What DeLay and his ideological mates failed to consider is that they trampled on a sacred right most Americans refuse to surrender. They ignored core values America will not compromise. They ran roughshod over the religious right’s noble heritage for preserving individual liberty that America shares with Thomas Jefferson.The sacred right: U.S. citizens possess inalienable rights against intrusive government. The author of this sacred right: Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1777. The proud religious-right heritage DeLay, Bush and Dobson no longer respected: individual liberty bestowed on each of us, including the right to cease living when “life” is no longer “life” but mere biological existence, as the Terri Schiavo case proved.Prior to his death, Jefferson wrote an epitaph to be chiseled on his tombstone, shaped like an obelisk. It did not mention his presidency. It was silent about the Louisiana Purchase. Besides remembering the Declaration of Independence and his founding of the University of Virginia, Jefferson singled out his drafting of the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. Religious communities, both conservative and liberal, have protected this sacred trust God gives to every person. DeLay and his cronies ran roughshod over it. The American public had enough of their religious smugness. Like Christ excoriating the know-it-alls of his day, the American public scorned DeLay’s crowd, “for (DeLay and his followers) are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness,” Matthew 23:27. A majority of Americans scorned DeLay and friends because their exterior religious smugness stank of inner decay against individual liberty.In matchless prose, Jefferson declared a cherished truth about our liberty in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, writing, “Almighty God hath created the mind free and manifested his superior will that free it shall remain by making it altogether unsusceptible of restraint.” Ironically, smug Tom DeLay and the religious right trampled its Baptist heritage that declares individual liberty non-negotiable. My former teacher of U.S. intellectual history, George Marsden, describes this hallowed virtue the religious right cherishes. In the second edition of a book evangelical Christianity Today magazine chose as one of the most important published in the past quarter century, “Fundamentalism and American Culture” (2005), Marsden pinpoints why DeLay, Bush and Dobson self-destructed. “One of (the religious right’s) most deeply held beliefs is that individual freedom of choice,” Marsden writes, “is central to the American Christian heritage.” This sacred right smug DeLay could not smother.The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the tax exempt, nonprofit Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado
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