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Christian Telecast Educates Faithful on High Court

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

About 3,000 people gathered yesterday at a Baptist church in Nashville, Tennessee, for Justice Sunday 2. This was a televised rally. Evangelical leaders called on conservative Christians to fight what they called activist judges. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR reporting:

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Washington-based Family Research Council, took center stage at Two Rivers Baptist Church. A large American flag hung on each side of the pulpit. Perkins said the nation's highest court has chipped away at religious liberties with its recent and not-so-recent decisions.

Mr. TONY PERKINS (Family Research Council): Whether it was silencing the voices of children praying in our schools or whether it was casting the Ten Commandments out of the public square, the court, as Justice Scalia said in his dissent in that Ten Commandments case--he said the court has ratcheted up its hostility to religion.

LOHR: The Supreme Court's ruling against displaying the Ten Commandments in most public places has frustrated many here. Other prominent issues include private property rights and the court's landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, spoke to the crowd via videotape.

Dr. JAMES DOBSON (Focus on the Family): Almost all of the great moral and social issues of our time are decided not by the voters, but by an unelected, unaccountable and often arrogant judiciary that just seems determined to redesign this great representative form of government in its own image. We call that effort judicial tyranny.

LOHR: The religious rally seemed like a political one at times. It included retired Senator Zell Miller and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who received a standing ovation.

Representative TOM DELAY (House Majority Leader): Ladies and gentlemen, the Constitution is clear on the point that the power to make laws is vested in Congress and that the federal courts are limited solely to their power to interpret and apply those laws. This fact, understood by every high school civics student, has been forgotten in recent decades by too many members of the American judiciary, including most notably the United States Supreme Court itself. Ladies and gentlemen, all wisdom does not reside in nine persons in robes.

(Soundbite of applause)

LOHR: Back in April, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist appeared at the original Justice Sunday gathering. It took aim at the Senate's use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees, but Frist's recent support for expanded embryonic stem cell research has angered some conservatives and may have kept him off the agenda this time. Another group of religious leaders held their own protest. Barry Lynn is with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He says this is not about justice, but about power.

Mr. BARRY LYNN (Americans United for Separation of Church and State): This is an organization that wants to achieve total control and total dominance of the government. They have control of the White House. They have control of the Congress, and now they need to stop the Supreme Court from interfering with the so-called religious right agenda.

LOHR: For the Family Research Council, it's clear that the upcoming confirmation hearings of John Roberts are just the beginning. The group believes President Bush may have the chance to nominate several justices in the next two and a half years, and it wants to be there to help mold those choices. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathy Lohr
Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.