Just days after a bitterly divided Senate committee voted along party lines to approve her nomination as a federal appellate court judge, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown told an audience Sunday that people of faith were embroiled in a “war” against secular humanists who threatened to divorce America from its religious roots, according to a newspaper account of the speech.
Brown’s remarks come as a partisan battle over judges has evolved into a national debate over the proper mix of God and government and as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) ponders changing the chamber’s rules to prevent Democrats from using procedural moves to block confirmation of conservative jurists such as Brown.
Her comments to a gathering of Roman Catholic legal professionals in Darien, Conn., came on the same day as “Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith,” a program produced by evangelical leaders and simulcast on the Internet and in homes and churches around the country. It was designed to paint opponents of Bush’s judicial nominees as intolerant of believers.
Though unrelated to that program, Brown’s remarks sounded similar themes.
“There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It’s not a shooting war, but it is a war,” she said, according to a report published Monday in the Stamford Advocate.
“These are perilous times for people of faith,” she said, “not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud.”
A spokeswoman for the California Supreme Court, Lynn Holton, said no text was available because “it was a talk, not a speech.” Brown’s office did not dispute the newspaper’s account.
The Advocate quoted Brown as lamenting that America had moved away from the religious traditions on which it was founded.
“When we move away from that, we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty,” she said.
She added that atheism “handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom.... Freedom then becomes willfulness.”
Brown’s remarks drew praise Monday from one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders, Gary Bauer, president of the socially conservative advocacy group American Values.
“No wonder the radical left opposes her,” Bauer wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “Janice Rogers Brown understands the great culture war raging in America. That is why the abortion crowd, the homosexual rights movement and the radical secularists are all demanding that Senate liberals block her confirmation.”
Brown was first nominated by President Bush in 2003 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an appointment considered a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court. She has emerged as one of the president’s most controversial judicial nominees -- and one of the conservative movement’s favorite examples of Democratic delays.
The nominations of Brown and nine other conservatives have been central to a bitter fight that both sides view as a precursor to an ideological brawl over replacing Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who has cancer.
Democrats blocked Brown’s confirmation by the full Senate, charging that she held extremist views that interfere with her ability to render objective judgments. She has a history of delivering provocative speeches.
Democrats have questioned speeches in which she called the New Deal the “triumph of our socialist revolution.” She has described herself as a “true conservative” who believes that “where the government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates.... The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible.”
Questioned in 2003 about her comments, Brown conceded that she was blunt when addressing conservative audiences.
“I don’t have a speechwriter,” she said. “I do these myself. And it speaks for itself.”
As the article describing Brown’s remarks was circulated Monday on websites and in e-mails, one advocacy group opposing Bush’s nominees charged that her remarks were a timely reminder of why the California judge should not be promoted.
“It’s so shocking that in the middle of this battle she would say such extraordinarily intemperate things,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Brown’s comments came at a breakfast following the Red Mass, an annual spring gathering of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.
In previous years, speakers at the diocese’s breakfast have included former appellate Judge Robert Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated by the Senate in 1987, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Two religious leaders who heard Brown speak Sunday had only praise. The Rev. Michael R. Moynihan, pastor of a church in Greenwich, Conn., and an organizer of the Red Mass, said he was impressed with Brown.
“She caused all of us to reflect more profoundly on the intersection between law and morality, and on the role of religion in shaping those virtues and values, which are crucial to our democratic way of life,” said Bishop William E. Lori, the head of the Bridgeport diocese, who invited Brown to address the group.