October 18, 2005
Miers: Faithful to Whom?
One of the
things that commend Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court is her
religion. So said President Bush, who has made no bones about
his own religion and its importance in his life. But if, as he
said, ``part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion'' and his
important aide, Karl Rove, attested to her bona fides
to at least one Christian conservative leader (James Dobson),
then can she be rejected on the same account? Simply put, if Dobson
is assured, why should I not be scared to death?
the assurances offered by Bush and Rove are not to the religious
community at large -- no calls made to my knowledge to liberal
Protestant, Catholic or Jewish leaders, for instance, or imams
be they Shiite or Sunni -- but just to conservative Christians,
which usually means fundamentalist Protestants. Whatever they
are -- and they are all sorts of things -- they often have secular
positions that are antithetical to those of other Americans.
born a Roman Catholic but became an evangelical Protestant in
1979. She was guided in that voyage by her good friend and then-colleague
at their law firm Nathan L. Hecht. ``One evening she called me
to her office and said she was ready to make a commitment,'' Hecht
has said. He took her tohis own church, the Valley View Christian
Church in Dallas, where she was baptized -- born again. Since
then, she has been an active and important member of the church.
a Supreme Court nominee's religious beliefs would be of little
interest and no significance -- but this is not your normal nomination.
When, for instance, Louis Brandeis became the first Jew to sit
on the Supreme Court, the polite formulation that he ``happened
to be Jewish'' made sense. His religious identity was hardly as
important as his formidable intellect, his writings and his activism.
They didn't name a university after him for no reason.
there will ever be a Miers U. She already lacks the sort of career
that suggests greatness -- or, to be perfectly truthful, anything
at all. The only thing that commends her at the moment is a touching
fealty to the extended Bush family and what Bush mentioned: her
religion. But this is a narrow recommendation. After all, to say
someone's a Catholic tells you virtually nothing about him. Is
he a Ted Kennedy Catholic or a Rick Santorum Catholic? But to
point to a specific church, as Rove did with Dobson, is a different
matter entirely. This was a conversation in code: She's one of
us. In other words, she shares our politics because, in this case,
politics and religion amount to the same thing.
one might feel about religion, one can nevertheless see it as,
in general, a force for good. In our own country in recent times,
liberal and mainstream clergymen helped propel the civil rights
movement. This was a progressive effort to apply religious teachings
to what is often called the real world. When ministers placed
themselves in the front ranks of civil rights marches, they were
truly putting themselves on the line.
that Miers represents can hardly be called progressive. It is
one that entails all sorts of conservative political positions
and says something about the believer. For instance, when Rove
offered his oral wink to Dobson, was he saying that Miers is opposed
to stem cell research and abortion under (almost) any circumstance?
Was he saying that she opposes the teaching of evolution in the
public schools or ``balancing'' it with ``intelligent design"?
Was Rove telling Dobson that Miers thinks this is a Christian
nation, that religious symbols can be and ought to be in the schools
or other public places? Can the government fund churches? Can
military chaplains proselytize the unchurched? Should gays be
``reprogrammed'' and should the government recommend abstinence-only
as a way to avoid teenage pregnancy? These are all positions taken
by many fundamentalist religious leaders. Are they Miers'? Is
anyone going to ask?
dicey stuff and it crosses a line that probably should not be
crossed. But the president has stupidly opened a Pandora's box
-- and all sorts of ugly questions may pop out. Can Miers set
her beliefs aside? Will the law take precedence? When it comes
time to argue a case, will she simply say ``I believe what I believe
-- and that's all there is to it.'' I kind of doubt it, but I
would like to be reassured. Bush has done his nominee no favor
-- especially to suggest that one closed mind has recommended
A number of readers, some of them formerly of the CIA, got the
impression from my last column that I don't consider the outing
of a covert employee a serious matter. I do.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group