Main content | Sidebar | Links

Saturday, January 14, 2006

On Unitarian Universalist opposition to Alito.

The Boston Globe's Spiritual Life column discusses the Unitarian Universalist Association's unprecedented opposition to the confirmation of Samuel Alito this morning. Rich Barlow interviews Rob Keithan, director of the UUA's Washington Office, who "says his denomination's stand is partly in reaction to conservative churches advocating for judges who oppose abortion and gay marriage." The story also rightly notes that Keithan is acting at the request of the General Assembly:

It was fear of conservative judicial decisions that spurred the UUA's 2004 General Assembly — the policy-setting conclave of delegates from member congregations — to declare that the church would oppose federal court nominees "whose records demonstrate insensitivity to the protection of civil liberties."

("Churches weigh in on court nomination," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 1.14.06, reg req'd; "Unitarian Universalist Association opposes Alito's confirmation," Tom Stites, 12.12.05)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 14 January 2006 at 10:10 AM

Previous: Against omnipotent rulers.
Next: UUA trustees meet in Boston next weekend.




Bill Baar:

January 14, 2006 12:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Orthodox Bishop got the Church and State boundaries right in the Globe story.

If the UUA had waited for the hearings, I think they would have found, like Roberts before him, Alito hardly fits this,

[UUA] ... oppose nominees to the federal appeals courts or the Supreme Court whose records demonstrate insensitivity to the protection of civil liberties

The Democratic Senators couldn't make that case against either nominee. To oppose Alito as a matter of conscience --as an enemy of American Liberites--, and NOT Roberts says the UUA's conscience goes dorment periodically.

It was a disgraceful, unprincipled stand for UUA to take.

You really wonder if its just plain old bigotry towards Catholics. In this case, the Blue Collar Catholic takes the hit over the more patrician Roberts.

Get the UUA out of Boston is the best solution.

Bill Baar:

January 14, 2006 02:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Stuart Buck has former attorney General William Barr's speech on signing statements back in 1992 at Cordozo's graduation.

This question of what the President does with ...clearly unconstitutional encroachment[s] on the President's appointment authority as well as on his authority to administer the foreign relations of the United States. is hardly new.

For UUA to make Alito's appointment a civil liberities issue (and to overlook Roberts earlier nomination; makes it really odd and suspect) just looks like the Church being used as a tool by Democratic politicians.

I suspect the faked Mao Book story was a planted by Democratic activists to give Sen Kennedy fodder. The UUA service committee got sucked into this story.

That UUA gets sucked into these politics does great diservice to our Faith. It's the worst kind of mixing of religion and politics.

If UUA thinks abortion is a right, and should be protected under some contrued right to privacy, they should simply pronounce that (and I think that's the root issue).

Otherwise it just looks like blowing smoke and dodging the core issue that probably bothers the majorit of UU's (right to abortion) although I think that's shifting.

Better to have just opposed both nominations and not look like hacks in tow to the party's strategy.

And to say that not an option because Roberts had less track record is foolish.

Bush did exactly what he said he would do, and was elected to do: he nominated candidates in the mold of Scalia and Thomas.

That's a big reason why he got elected and everyone knew that.

Bill Baar:

January 14, 2006 02:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

Forgot Buck's link.

He's great reading.

I'm done....


January 16, 2006 04:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Anybody know what "conservative churches" are motivating Keithan and the UUA. None are identified at the UUA or Washington website. The Globe only identified another group that supports the UUA, the URJ. It noted two prominent conservative churches, including Alito's own, stating that they don't take such positions. A quick glane at the usual suspects (lcms, sbc, lds) didn't turn up any positions.

What denominations is Keithan talking about?


January 16, 2006 08:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just a hunch: I bet Keithan is referring to events like Justice Sunday III, a bit of evangelical right-wingery involving James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, David Barton, and such marginal figures as Senator Rick Santorum (only #3 in the GOP!) and Edwin Meese III. Although little secular media coverage is given to events like Justice Sunday, Christian broadcasting networks (which reach as many as 80 million Americans and which rally networks of independent and evangelical churches) make these religious pep rallies a much more forceful politicization of the church than anything Rob Keithan's tiny office and its letterhead can do.

Here's a Religion News Service curtain-raiser about Justice Sunday III. Here's a Mother Jones story about Salem Radio, the network of 103 stations and 1,900 affiliates -- the second fastest growing radio chain in the country -- that is one of the media partners in Justice Sunday. Is James Dobson a powerful guy? His media empire reaches more people every day than every mailing distributed by the UUA in a year by orders of magnitude. (According to the Boston Globe, his column appears in 500 newspapers; his radio broadcast has 2 million listeners daily.) Falwell himself is a bit of an oddity, but his university and law school are feeders into the activist core of the GOP.

Keeping an eye on what traditional denominational officers say anymore is to miss the real engines of religious politics in the United States. Statements by bishops, delegate bodies, and ecumenical organizations are usually directed to government officials, who almost always ignore them. The activities of the Christian right, however, are stagecraft focused on a kind of populism that forces politicians to pay attention -- and to lust after their supporters and mailing lists.

To think that Bush's Supreme Court nominees haven't been picked in part to retain the favor of Christian conservatives would be naive in the extreme. A small handful of mainline and liberal religious groups are trying to find effective ways to challenge these groups. That's how I interpret what the UUA's Washington Office is attempting to do.

Bill Baar:

January 17, 2006 08:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

Bush did exactly what he said he would do when running for re election. Nominate Judges in the mold of Scalia and Thomas.

That was one of the most powerful arguments advanced to vote for Kerry and it was voiced by many with good reason.

Bush did exactly what he said he would when he nominated Roberts and Alito.

UUA has apparantly singled out Alito only as an extremist and threat to our liberties.

The UUA has not made that case frankly, and you look at this in context of what fights UUA has picked to engage in, and their position makes no sense what so ever as a moral objection.

Unlike the religious right who've consistently supported Justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas.

The only way UUA's opposition to Alito makes sense is to view it as a tactical political move.

And that is not good thing for a Church to mix it up in; mostly because Clerics are horrible political tacticians.


January 17, 2006 03:27 PM | Permalink for this comment


I think your right. The UUA has made a number of recent statements suggesting that it sees itself as a liberal alternative to the Family Research Council [FRC] et al. I don't like the FRC any more than you do, but this is a problematic policy for the UUA.

The FRC is not a "conservative church" because it isn't a church. It is a political organization headed by a former Louisiana state legislator with no religious credentials. It draws support from Catholics, mainlines, and evangelicals and even features token Jews and Muslims. This gives it a much broader base than the UUA, which is unlikely to be accepted by, say, liberal Catholics as their spokesperson.

The FRC devotes itself to press releases, publicity stunts and direct mail fundraising, all activities the UUA seeks to emulate. But look at what the FRC doesn't do. It doesn't have ministers or congregations. So when the UUA tries to be a left-wing version of the FRC, I wonder if the UUA sees ministerial and congregationial life as a sort of legacy product line to be phased out as the UUA becomes a direct mail based political lobby.

Finally we should note that the FRC _loves_ the UUA. They talk about the UUA a fair amount. The reason that conservatives love the UUA is that the UUA's policies demonstrate, to conservatives at least, that liberals don't really believe in separation of church and state.

If we were serious about imitating the conservatives, we would at least pretend to separate our politics from our denominational life.

Steve Caldwell:

January 17, 2006 09:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill Baar wrote:
Unlike the religious right who've consistently supported Justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas.


Until recently, the UUA as a denomination hasn't supported or oppossed judicial nominees. It took a recent General Assembly vote by congregational representatives to authorize the UUA to speak as a collective body on judicial nominations:

Civil Liberties (2004 Statement of Conscience)

Then Bill wrote:
The only way UUA's opposition to Alito makes sense is to view it as a tactical political move.

And that is not good thing for a Church to mix it up in; mostly because Clerics are horrible political tacticians."

I don't see a problem with this being a "tactical political" decision. Advocacy resources are limited ... it's not unethical for a religious body to use its resources in this debate where they will have the most effect.

The sad thing about this is the relative disorganization of the political and religious left in the US. I suspect we're going to see Roe v. Wade overturned with the end result that a patchwork collection of state laws will restrict women in what they can and can't do with their bodies without regard to their health or individual circumstances.

Right to Choose (1987 General Resolution)

Bill Baar:

January 17, 2006 10:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

If UUA is in the business of politics, and deciding partisan tactical politics; as part of the business of being a Church...

..then it's probably not the Church for me; and probably not the Church for IRS Tax empt status.

Check the link for what our fellow Religous Liberals in Ohio are doing for example. They're right to complain.

A group of religious leaders has sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation of two large churches in Ohio that they say are improperly campaigning on behalf of a conservative Republican running for governor.

The Religous Right for the most part, as UUWonk points out, at least have the sense to split the Church and a political arm into two seperate entities. It's the right thing to do.

What UUA at least ought to do is explain the calculus they use for making these tactical political moves. If it's cooridinated with patisan political tacticians, or if they simply have some test they apply to candidates that would allow a Roberts to pass, and an Alito to fail.

It simply looks rotton to me, and worse, bad political tactics to boot!

So we end up with bad Church government and bad political tactics. I poor pay back for my family's pledge all around.


January 18, 2006 09:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

FYI: ChaliceChick objects, too.


January 18, 2006 01:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

I object, too. My comments are on CC's thread.

And I object even though I want to see the Dems filibuster him. I object because I think it reflects an inappropriate ordering of a weak denomination's priorities and a waste of a weak denomination's scarce institutional resources, not because I disagree with the UUAWO's position.

It would be great if liberal religion had its own version of James Dobson, but it would be horrible if our denomination (or any other) assumed that role. Fortunately, to date the UUA and UUAWO do not fill that role. Unfortunately, it seems to be not because they don't want to, but because their inept political efforts fail so consistently.


January 18, 2006 10:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think the UUA opposing Alito is in reaction to the "religious right" entry into politics -- as you noted.
Separation of church and state is an important issue, and unfortunately, it must be addressed in the political sphere.
Alito is against civil liberties in that he doesn't believe in our right to privacy. There is much more history on Alito than there was on Roberts. It's all bad -- he's trying to make Bush a dictator. One of our principles upholds democratic principles, thus is grounds for opposing the anti-democratic Alito. Also, Alito is an admitted liar. That should disqualify him right there.
I thought religions weren't supposed to advocate a specific candidate in an election -- this is neither advocating nor an election.
The "job interview" for becoming a Supreme Court Justice should be far more rigorous than a week of questions he's free to not answer.... and it should require two thirds of the congress to confirm.

Bill Baar:

January 20, 2006 08:41 AM | Permalink for this comment

It would make more sense for UUA to support the cause of those who's rights Bush has violated, rather than oppose Alitio. If UUS would defend those who've been unjustly wronged. That would mean joing ACLU's lawsuit over NSA spying for example. Or advocating for Aldrich Ames who was imprisoned after a warrentless search of his home.

That UUA refuses to do the positive and defend the oppressed, and instead opposses Alito is a reflection of shakey is the oppossition to what Bush has done.

It's as though MLK would have overlooked imprisoned protestors and just complained about Sheriff because MLK thought the protestors probably deserved to be in jail anyways; and he was just getting off his grip against the sheriff.

As Chalice Chick writes, it's a dumb move on UUA's part at many levels and harms the Church.

Harms if anyone knew, no one at my Church has said a word about it. They complained about the polyamory ad in UU mag instead.

Steve Caldwell:

January 20, 2006 04:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill Baar wrote:
"It would make more sense for UUA to support the cause of those who's rights Bush has violated, rather than oppose Alitio."


FWIW, the recent advovacy actions on Federal judicial nominees is supported by very specific language in a General Assembly resolution. The Washington Office can do this work because they have been granted this authority through the votes of congregational representatives at GA.

Your suggestion about joining the recent ACLU lawsuit is a very good one, but it may be a problem for us within our current polity (especially if there is no GA resolution directly addressing this advovacy issue). For them to act, they would have to do so without any congregational authorization whatsover.

Perhaps this is something the UUA Board can address as a Board Resolution (they are meeting this weekend)?

Bill Baar:

January 21, 2006 08:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

Put Aldrich Ames on the blog then. Tell the UUA to take up his cause. He went to prison on the basis of a search of his home without a warrent from a FISA court.

I think this civil liberties concern is a shame though. That's not the real issue. The real issue is abortion rights. That's becoming more and more a loser as people want greater restrictions on it.

Blagovich (Gov in Illinois) had to sign a "born-alive" law almost in secret. He knew he needed it for the general election but he knew his donors hated the law. It's the bind Democrats are in with this one.

UUA doesn't care about Aldrich Ames. They don't want to defend Jose Padilla. They do worry about Abortion rights and rather than say so, they get wrapped up in this fourth amendment stuff.

They need to read Carville's book on the disease of the Democratic Party because if they get bed with the party, they're going to catch the same disease and perish with the party.

Like I said, Clerics are terrible politicians.

Comments for this entry are currently closed.