Conservative 'Justice Sunday' Tonight Stirs Debate Over Alito

WASHINGTON – A nationally televised Christian conservative rally tonight focusing on what organizers see as judicial threats to religious freedom ahead of the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's hearings is being opposed by more liberal-leaning religious groups.

The Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based group, is organizing the event and will include speakers such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The rally, called “Justice Sunday III: Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land” will take place at Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, starting at 7 p.m. EST.

FRC believes, as do many of those gathered for the event, that federal judges should not exclude religion and God from the public square, holding that the Constitution, as originally drafted by the founders of the country, protects many of today’s most controversial areas of debate.

Many of those who will speak out Sunday night have previously advocated for Ten Commandments monuments as civic displays, prayer in tax-payer-funded schools, tight restrictions on abortion, the preservation of marriage as a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, and government funding for faith-based social service programs.

Tony Perkins, FRC President said in an interview on Friday that the rally’s timing was meant to coincide with Alito’s nomination because his confirmation is seen as “part of the solution to the problem, which is the growing hostility of courts to public displays of religion,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We are petitioning our government,” Perkins said. “We have a right.”

While acknowledging that free speech protects events such as “Justice Sunday” some are cautioning that too much influence by one group in the judiciary may affect the federal court system in a negative way. They are concerned that Alito, if confirmed would do away with their religious freedom, which often clashes with conservatives.

In a conference call with reporters earlier on Friday, more-liberal clergy members said a judge such as Alito could put some of their beliefs in jeopardy.

“The folks putting on the event have every right to do so,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and a minister at the United Church Christ – the first mainline church to fully support gay clergy.

"We are concerned solely about his (Alito's) judicial philosophy and whether he truly understands that the Supreme Court is the last great protector of the rights of the people," Lynn added.

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution in New York said that she did not want one view of Christianity to dominate others.

“We count on the Supreme Court as an independent body,” she said

“Religious liberty is one of the least understood and most valued freedoms in our country: to worship in the way we see fit, and never, never, to be coerced.”

“I don’t want to have lockstep Christian justice,” added the Rev. Bill Levering, pastor of Summit Presbyterian Church in West Mount Airy, Pa. “I don’t want a Congress or a Supreme Court where one faith gets to say what.”

The two previous Justice Sunday programs ahead of Judge John Roberts’ confirmation hearings in August and another one in April protesting potential judicial filibusters of judges with religious backgrounds also drew similar protests.

One of the invited guests who will attend but not speak at Justice Sunday will be Brian Bosma, Indiana’s House speaker, who in late November lost a lawsuit which held that the House was unconstitutionally advancing religion.

He was ordered by a federal judge to tell those who offer opening invocation prayers in the legislature not to make specific references to Jesus. Under the ruling, only prayers to God, without sectarian influence are allowed.

This week, Bosma chose to suspend official prayers and hold informal prayer meetings instead at the rear of the legislature chamber minutes before the start of the day’s session. He has indicated he will appeal the ruling.

In addition to Perkins, Dobson and Santorum, other speakers include Herbert Lusk, pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church, The Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University, and Alveda C. King, niece of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

”Justice Sunday III: Proclaim Liberty Throughout Land” will air from Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia on Jan. 8, 2006.

The program will be shown from 7-8:30 p.m. EST and 9-10:30 p.m. EST on Sky Angel satellite television and at 7-8:30 p.m. PST and 10-11:30 p.m. EST on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Radio broadcasts will air live on American Family Radio and Bott Radio Network. An Internet feed will be streamed at www.justicesunday.com.