An attack on people of faith? Well, no

In his prime-time press conference, the president rejects his allies' claim that opponents of his judges are filibustering the faithful.

Published April 29, 2005 12:54PM (EDT)

Are you listening, Sen. Frist? When George W. Bush suggests that you've gone too far in pandering to the religious right, it's time to start asking yourself whether you've got a problem. Last week, Frist threw his very public support behind Justice Sunday, an event built around the premise that the Democrats' efforts to block a handful of Bush's most extreme judicial nominees amount to a "filibuster against people of faith."

What's Bush think of that premise? He doesn't buy it.

In his prime-time press conference Thursday night, Bush was asked whether he believed "that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith." He said no. "I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated," Bush said. It was the first of four times that the president rejected the notion that religious discrimination was motivating opposition to his nominees. "No, I just don't agree with it," he said. "I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith," he said. "No, I think people oppose my nominees because -- because of judicial philosophy," he said.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is the primary promoter of the "it's an attack on people of faith" argument. What does he have to say about Bush's rebuttal? Nothing, yet. In his daily message to supporters Thursday, he was still making arguments about the Democrats' "religious intolerance" -- and still wrapping his arms around Bill Frist.

So two questions for today: Will Frist remain in his death hug with the far-right edge of American religion -- hey, you've got to win the 2008 Republican nomination somehow -- or will he take note of his president's words? And will Perkins and his ilk continue to use the prospect of persecution to whip up fervor over the nuclear option, or will they apologize for attacking Democrats with an argument that the president himself doesn't believe? We're holding our breath.

By Tim Grieve

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

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