Conservative religious groups maintained their support of Clarence Thomas, even as allegations of sexual harassment further mired the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court in a slough of politics and ideology. At varying points in the three-month drama, Christian groups had adopted familiar political positions as mainline groups generally opposed the Bush nominee and conservative evangelicals backed him.

Evangelical Support

Hours before the Senate hearings began last month, a group of about 300 black pastors from 29 states gathered in front of the Supreme Court for prayer and a press conference in support of Thomas. They were part of the Coalition for the Restoration of the Black Family and Society, cochaired by E. V. Hill, pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist church in Los Angeles, and Keith Butler, pastor of the Word of Faith Christian Center and a member of Detroit’s city council.

“Clarence Thomas stands for what we believe,” Butler said. “We want to let the senators know to treat him fairly, or we will remember them.”

Only a few weeks before, Hill’s denomination, the National Baptist Convention USA, the nation’s largest black organization, had voted to oppose the nomination. Hill, however, said the vote did “not reflect a unifed membership.” He said the majority of grassroots black church members supported Thomas as a representative of the values of “our fathers and our fathers’ fathers.”

Following Thomas’s testimony at the Senate hearings in late September, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) endorsed the nomination. “We do not know how Judge Thomas might vote on particular issues, but we hold that constitutional decisions should be in the hands of Justices committed both to natural law and judicial restraint,” said a statement released by the NAE executive committee. “We believe he is a jurist and constitutionalist who will be faithful to that tradition.”

The NAE has taken a position on a Court nominee only once before in its history, supporting Reagan nominee Robert Bork, who failed to win confirmation in 1987.

Other groups that supported Thomas included the Association of Christian Schools, Concerned Women for America (CWA), the National Jewish Coalition, and the Religious Roundtable. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and the Citizens Committee to Confirm Clarence Thomas, founded by Family Research Council president Gary Bauer, launched national media advertisements in support of the nomination.


The sexual harassment charges that delayed the Senate vote came from University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, formerly a professor at the Oral Roberts University School of Law (ORU). Hill said Thomas harassed her in 1981 when she worked for him at the Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982 and 1983.

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Shortly after the charges were made public, the Christian Coalition released a statement from former ORU law school dean Charles Kothe, who hired Hill in 1983 on the recommendation of Thomas. Noting that “never once did [Hill] give any hint of any irregularity in her relationship with Clarence Thomas,” Kothe called the charges “not only unbelievable, but preposterous.”

At press time, no religious group on record endorsing Thomas had recanted its position. Asserting that the “hundreds of thousands of women” in her organization were still “solidly” behind Thomas, CWA president Beverly LaHaye said her supporters were “outraged” that feminist leaders tried to portray Thomas as “insensitive to women.”

Butler said his organization still supported Thomas as well, although he said he welcomed delay of the vote “out of respect for both Professor Hill and Judge Thomas.” Butler was harshly critical of the tone of this confirmation process. “Perhaps what we’ve seen with this incident may be … politics at its worst,” he said, adding his fear that Thomas’s “reputation will have been smeared forever.”

Avoiding Issues

Prior to the accusations, most observers agreed that questions about Thomas’s views on several controversial issues were left unanswered during the hearings.

• Abortion. Thomas said he agreed with the right to privacy but had not made up his mind on the propriety of Roe v. Wade. Throughout the Senate committee’s questioning, he refused to elaborate on his positions about abortion. To do so “would undermine my ability to sit in an impartial way on an important case like that,” he said.

After the hearings, the National Right to Life Committee stood by its original statement, which neither supported nor opposed Thomas but expressed optimism about his philosophy “not to legislate from the bench.”

• Church and state. Thomas said he has “no quarrel” with the three-part Lemon test the Court uses to determine unconstitutional establishment of religion. The Justice Department has asked the Court to re-examine that test next month when it hears a key case involving a school-commencement prayer. Thomas further said he has no quarrel with “the Jeffersonian ‘wall of separation’ ” between church and state.

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Those statements pleased Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Prior to the hearings, Americans United had expressed concern about Thomas’s church/state views and urged senators to “aggressively question” him on the topic. However, said spokesman Rob Boston, it remains unclear how Thomas might vote on the Court.

Forest Montgomery, NAE general counsel, who has been sharply critical of the Lemon test, admitted Thomas’s remarks caused him “some concern.” However, he added, “[Thomas] says on all issues his mind is open, so we would hope in some future case we can convince him that he ought to be concerned [about the Lemon test].”

• Natural law. Thomas said early in his testimony that his belief in a theory of natural law—the recognition that inalienable rights are conferred by our Creator—“is not appropriate to be used in constitutional adjudication.” Natural law helps in understanding the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, he said.

Constitutional scholar Terry Eastland of the Ethics and Public Policy Center told CT he believes it was helpful for Thomas to assert that he would not use natural law as an “independent basis for deciding the Constitution.” Beyond that, however, Eastland said he felt discussion of natural law by the senators and the press was “often illiterate.”

Eastland, a former Justice Department spokesman, criticized the politicized nature of the Thomas procedings. “The process, it seems to me, is not one that is becoming to deliberative democracy,” he said. “These hearings largely should not be taken in an intellectually serious manner.”

As a result, Eastland said, in the future “the President will nominate to the Court people who have not achieved distinction in thinking about the great jurisprudential issues of our time. The President will resort to people with slim judicial records, people who have not attained distinction in the law.”

Abortion Clash Ahead

Congress set the stage for another confrontation with the White House over abortion last month when the Senate voted to repeal Title X regulations that ban federally funded family-planning clinics from counseling or referring for abortion. The legislation would also allow tax-funded abortions in cases of rape or incest.

One of the most controversial features of the bill, which is part of the Labor/Health and Human Services money package, is a parental notification amendment that neither advocates nor opponents of abortion like. Prolifers say the Kassebaum Amendment is in reality “parental circumvention” because it allows the notification requirement to be waived by counselors if they believe the minor seeking an abortion might suffer “emotional harm” by telling her parents.

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Hundreds of prolifers came to Capitol Hill to lobby against the amendment and several others like it as part of a Mothers Against Minors’ Abortions (MAMA) lobby day.

President Bush has threatened to veto all measures that expand abortion rights. According to the Washington Times, there are 56 bills or amendments on abortion currently working their way through Congress.

Defining Religion

Religious groups are raising concerns about proposed immigration regulations that outline procedures for temporary religious workers to gain admission to the United States. Under the Immigration Act of 1990, religious workers may stay in the U.S. for up to five years. However, the proposed regulations say the workers must be affiliated with a religious denomination that has “a recognized creed and form of worship, a formal code of doctrine and discipline.”

In written comments criticizing the proposed rules, the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC) noted that Baptists and many other denominations are “non-creedal,” or without a specific set of creeds and beliefs. “Rather, we look to the Bible generally to set forth our doctrinal position,” the BJC comments say. “Thus, under the definition of ‘religious denomination’ in the Proposed Rule, the largest Protestant denomination in the country arguably is not a ‘denomination’ within the meaning of the immigration law.”

Final regulations will be adopted after public-interest groups have been allowed to submit their comments.

No Funds For Offensive Art

The Senate has reined in the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), voting last month to impose tougher standards on works created by artists who use NEA funds. In a 68-to-28 vote on an appropriations bill for the NEA, the Senate adopted a statement telling the endowment it can no longer use tax dollars to “promote, disseminate, or produce materials that depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual or excretory activities or organs.”

Authored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the provision was similar to a prohibition adopted in the Senate last year, which was eventually dropped in favor of a compromise with the House that provided for a more vague ban on “obscene art.”

Peru Rights Record Under Fire

Peru’s human-rights record and treatment of religious workers came under fire last month as President Alberto Fujimori visited the White House and Congress held a hearing on an administration proposal to provide $90 million in economic and military aid to the South American country.

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According to testimony from human-rights groups, government troops have been responsible for the “disappearance” of scores of Peruvians. In the past six months the Shining Path guerrilla movement in Peru has been responsible for the murder of several church and relief workers, including two World Vision representatives (CT, June 24, 1991, p. 56).

Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) called Peru’s record “pathetic,” noting also that there has been “no significant reduction” in coca production since Fujimori came to power.

Administration officials admitted that serious problems exist in Peru, but they defended both the aid proposal and the efforts of Fujimori, who was widely supported by evangelicals in the last election.

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