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2006-01-09

Conservative Christian Organizations Stage Pro-Alito Rally at Justice Sunday III

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On Sunday, conservative organizations staged a rally in Philadelphia called 'Justice Sunday III' in support of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. We speak with the Rev. Timothy McDonald, an African-American pastor who opposed the event because of what he calls Alito’s poor record on civil-rights. [includes rush transcript]

On Sunday, conservative organizations staged a rally in Philadelphia in support of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. The event, called Justice Sunday III, was held at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church and was broadcast on Christian television and radio stations across the country. The Family Research Council was the main organizer of the event and speakers included Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Reverend Jerry Falwell and Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Philadelphia is the hometown of Senator Arlen Spector who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and it is where Alito sits on the 3rd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. The website for Justice Sunday III states that the purpose of the event is to "educate people of faith on how the judiciary impacts their lives and to show how activist judges seek to end all mention of God in the public square."

The pastor of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church is Reverend Herbert Lusk. When he offered his church to host the pro-Alito rally, criticism came from other African-American clergy who said that it was an inappropriate venue because of Alito’s poor record on civil-rights. In an interview with the New York Times last week, Reverend Lusk said he is accustomed to controversy. He went on to say that President Bush is a friend of his who promised him that he would "appoint people to the justice system that would be attentive to the needs I care about–stopping same-sex marriage, assisted suicide and abortions for minors and supporting prayer and Christmas celebrations in school."

In the 2000 election, Reverend Lusk endorsed Bush from his pulpit in a speech that was broadcast live at the Republican National Convention. Lusk later received a $1 million dollar grant through Bush’s Faith Based Initiative program.

A few other African-American clergy have come out in support of Alito as well. This radio ad featured the Reverend Bill Owens, president of the conservative Coalition of African American Pastors. The ad was paid for by the pro-Alito Judicial Confirmation Network and aired last week in Arkansas on Christian and gospel radio stations.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This radio ad features the Reverend Bill Owens, president of the conservative Coalition of African American Pastors. The ad was paid for by the Pro-Alito Judicial Confirmation Network and aired last week in Arkansas on Christian gospel radio stations.

REV. BILL OWENS: Merry Christmas. This is Rev. Bill Owens of the Coalition of African America Pastors, wishing you a merry Christmas this week, as we finish celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. Can anyone think of a friendlier greeting than "Merry Christmas"? But there are those who want to drive any religious expression out of the public square. You know who they are. They’re folks who sue towns for putting up nativity scenes and menorahs, who tell little girls in the first grade that they can’t draw pictures of our savior, Jesus Christ, for class projects. Now these extremist groups want our senators to vote against Judge Alito for the United States Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: An ad paid for by the Pro-Alito Judicial Confirmation Network. We’re joined on the phone right now by Timothy McDonald, Chair of the African American Ministers in Action, serves as pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, also President of Concerned Black Clergy, an organization of Black and White clergy and laypeople working on behalf of the poor. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Reverend McDonald.

REV. TIMOTHY McDONALD: It’s my pleasure to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the ad to Justice Sunday III that was held in Philadelphia, the home of the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee?

REV. TIMOTHY McDONALD: Well, this is, you know, what happened to Justice I, what happened to Justice II. It is a camouflaged attempt to influence African American voters to put pressure on their senators. But we have found, through the African American Ministers in Action, that when our people are informed, when they have the facts, when they look at Alito’s record, not the rhetoric, because there are issues not related to faith that also impact our lives. We want to know about workers’ rights, we want to know about women’s rights, we want to know about rights of immigrants, we want to know about health care and other issues, and how that’s going to be impacted.

So we cannot become tunnel-visioned, and some of my African American colleagues, I believe, are becoming tunnel-visioned. They focus on what we call the wedge issues of gay marriage and abortion, and they tend to not see anything else. I think it is very telling that the report in The New York Times points out that Reverend Lusk has already received more than $1 million from this administration. And when you take money from Pharaoh, you have to carry Pharaoh’s water. But there are a number of African American pastors out here, in fact, I think an overwhelming majority who do not support. It is no accident that Mr. Bush, President Bush’s approval among African American at one time was at 2%. It may be at 2.1% right now, today. So we are concerned that African American pastors are being co-opted. But we know that in the tradition of the Black church, as we inform our people that our people will make the right choices.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this new in a Supreme Court confirmation process to focus ads on the African American community?

REV. TIMOTHY McDONALD: Well, yes, I think it is new, because the truth of the matter is White America is pretty much divided on this issue. This appointment is unlike the John Roberts, where with Rehnquist there was not the shift. With Sandra Day O’Connor coming out and Alito being nominated, this can be the telling point. And that’s why I really hope and I really pray that there will be a fight in the United States Senate, that there will be every effort to make sure that Alito is not confirmed, and that we do not become tunnel-visioned in our religious bigotry to try to focus just on one or two issues, but we see the larger agenda and the larger decisions that any Supreme Court justice would be overseeing. And when we look at the larger issues and not allow just our passion for one particular issue to override, then I think that common sense people will vote against Alito.

This tactic that is being employed is a desperation tactic, in my opinion. It is a desperation tactic on part of the Family Research Center. It’s a desperation tactic on the part of this administration, because they know that African Americans are politically very progressive, but biblically, have always been, historically, somewhat conservative.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue, Reverend McDonald, of abortion in the Black religious community?

REV. TIMOTHY McDONALD: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, the African American Ministers in Action and the African America Ministers Leadership Council, we’re associated with People for the American Way. We came into existence in 1997, when there was a concerted effort on the part of the Christian Coalition, then under Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, to form an organization called the Samaritan Project, whose primary purpose was to infiltrate African American churches and get them to side with their religious right agenda. We killed the Samaritan Project, and we killed it by giving our people the facts, giving our people the information. You know, I’m a — Bible, the Bible says people perish for lack of knowledge and lack of understanding.

What we want to do on the Alito nomination is to flood our senators’ offices with information from African Americans that we are concerned, yes, about gay marriage, and yes, about abortion, but we are concerned about a plethora of other issues, as well, and that when we look at the whole gamut of what this judge would be ruling on, that our hearts tell us he is not the best person for this job.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Rev. Timothy McDonald, for joining us. And let me ask, have you gotten any money from the —

REV. TIMOTHY McDONALD: Well, I believe that you cannot allow your nonprofit to make you a nonprofit. The answer is, no, I have not received any money. I don’t want any money. I don’t want the government telling me and dictating to me how I can do ministry, how I can deal and relate to issues that are affecting the lives of my people, the folk who are suffering, who don’t have health care. Our children are suffering under No Child Left Behind. You know, you’ve got people who are out there who don’t know how they’re going to make it. You’ve got seniors who are having to choose about the Medicaid. Our budget is a moral document, and that reflects our values as a nation. And so, no, I have not received any money. I have never applied for any money from our government. I get money from other sources: foundations, individuals. We have a 501(c)(3), we have a separate board, we have separate accounts. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done and not sell our souls to pharaohs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Reverend Timothy McDonald, Chair of the African American Ministers in Action, speaking to us from Atlanta, Georgia.

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