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Michael Tomasky on How Newt Gingrich Has No Rightful Place in American Politics or Government


Michael Tomasky: Did an Obama judicial nominee really express a preference for Allah over Jesus?: From the second I read the sentence, I knew there was something fishy about it. Many years' experience in reading and then looking into rightwing canards set off the usual alarm bells in my head. So I know how these things work. But even I was shocked after I looked into the truth of the matter. My daily readings led me to an interview with Newt Gingrich in Christianity Today. The former speaker was asked whether opposition to tax increases was an adequate "uniting message" for his party. Gingrich replied that there had to be more to the party's story. For instance, he said:

You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in her ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. You'll find most Republican senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah. That seemed, frankly, ridiculous. I happened to know that the "Hamilton" in question was from Indiana.... I also happened to know that "her" first name was David, so Gingrich could not get even this basic fact straight.... So I wanted to know more.... [A] search returned thousands of rabid posts from the wing-o-sphere about this judge who thinks Indianans should be allowed to pray to Allah but not to Jesus.... [E]ventually I found my way to... Hamilton's actual decision... Hinrichs v Bosma.... Naturally, it's all a lie, but as I said, even I was shocked at how rancidly despicable a lie it was....

Hamilton's decision is eminently calm and even-keeled... he relies on two decisions from the fourth judicial circuit... the country's most conservative.... Wynn v Town of Great Falls. The town council opened its meetings with a prayer that regularly mentioned Jesus Christ.... Not only did Hamilton rely on the country's most conservative federal circuit court, he specifically cited an opinion written by one of the most conservative jurists on that court. Judge J Harvie Wilkinson is always on the short list when a US supreme court seat opens up during a Republican presidency. But even Wilkinson wrote....

We cannot adopt a view of the tradition of legislative prayer that chops up American citizens on public occasions into representatives of one sect and one sect only, whether Christian, Jewish or Wiccan. In private observances, the faithful surely choose to express the unique aspects of their creeds. But in their civic faith, Americans have reached more broadly. Our civic faith seeks guidance that is not the property of any sect....

[H]ere's where the lie comes in... what did [Hamilton] say about Allah?... [T]he decision doesn't so much as mention Allah.... Read this paragraph, from page 49:

The Speaker has also suggested that such an explicit caution about Christian references "would be the first known religious viewpoint discrimination in connection with the Indiana House invocation."... The criticism is misguided. The decisive point of constitutional law is that a practice of sectarian prayer favouring any particular religion violates the establishment clause. From the evidence here, it is clear that the letters asking invited clerics to "strive for an ecumenical prayer" have not been sufficient to prevent many Christian speakers from using the prayer opportunity to advance and even to proselytise Christianity. The same strictures will apply to sectarian Jewish or Muslim prayers, for example. This record, however, shows no efforts by Jewish or Muslim clerics to use the prayer opportunity to advance their particular religions. At this juncture, there is no need to be more specific in the injunction as to what would amount to a sectarian prayer in those traditions.

The same strictures will apply!... [T]he wingers have taken the last sentence of this paragraph, yanked it completely out of context, and then taken the extra step (or two or three) of insinuating that of course, this kind of Godless heathen is exactly the sort of nominee you'd expect from a secret Muslim president....

I'd like to report that this is unusual, but this kind of slippery illogic is standard operating procedure on today's right. Find something that might inflame opinion and stoke prejudice, and pump it. Doesn't matter that it isn't really true. By the time the other side explains that it isn't true, we'll already have won. They know that no one's going to read page 49 of a legal opinion. As it happens this time someone did, but often, alas, they're right.

These are sick, sick people. May their Jesus consign them to history's ash heap.