On Good Friday, is Jeb Bush Pontius Pilate?

The religious right steps up its demand that the Florida governor save Terri Schiavo by seizing her.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 25, 2005 7:06PM (EST)

It's Good Friday, but the religious right isn't taking the day off. As Terri Schiavo fades to what her father calls her "last hours," Christian conservatives are demanding that Gov. Jeb Bush seize her from her hospice room and re-insert her feeding tube.

"What Bush needs to do is to take in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and say, 'We are here under executive order from the governor . . . and we are taking custody of Terri,'" Randall Terry, the founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and a spokesman for Schiavo's parents, told reporters yesterday.

Although Jeb Bush has moved aggressively in the Schiavo case -- he has continued to pursue legal relief even after his brother seems to have given up -- the right says that the governor is failing to fulfill his duties, both morally and legally. Asked on MSNBC last night whether Bush has done enough to save Schiavo, former Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes said: "Of course not. He hasn't done anything. She is being starved to death."

Some of Keyes' compatriots are putting it even more bluntly. In a press statement issued late last night, the anti-abortion group Crossroads for Life beseeched Bush not to "repeat Pontius Pilate's mistake this Good Friday." Drawing parallels to the death of the Christ -- Jesus' mother was named Mary, and so is Terri Schiavo's! -- the group said that Bush, like Pontius Pilate, must now ask himself whether he should stake his political career on the life of a single person.

"Now, it is in the hands of the governor, the man who will ultimately choose either to wield the temporal powers of his office to save innocent life, or 'wash his hands' of her," the group says. "To be certain, Jeb Bush has done a great deal on behalf Terri. But how will history remember him if Terri dies? Likely, as a weak, moral coward, who did not have the courage to save a helpless, dying woman from those who so vehemently wished to take her life."

The governor was scheduled to participate in a Good Friday event this afternoon at Florida State University. According to a press release just issued by Patrick Mahoney's Chistian Defense Coalition, Bush pulled out at the last minute "out of fear and guilt of seeing supporters of Terri Schiavo pleading for her life."

While Bush hasn't unequivocally ruled out the idea of seizing Schiavo from her hospice bed, he seemed to recognize yesterday that doing so would exceed his legal authority. "There are a lot of things that go on in society that trouble me, and this is certainly one of them. To have somebody starve to death troubles me greatly," he told reporters gathered in his office. "We have done everything that we can, and we will continue to do so, within the powers that I have."

That's not enough for right-to-life activists like Terry, who helped lead a protest outside Bush's offices today. The Christian right has put Republicans in office all over the country, Terry says. Now it's payback time. "I promise you that if she dies," Terry said yesterday, "there's going to be hell to pay with pro-life, pro-family Republicans."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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