When politicians exploit religious bigotry in front of the cameras, if you look behind them you can see the shake, shake, shake of the changeboxes.
Earlier this month, Senator James Inhofe announced he would filibuster the confirmation of David Hamilton to the federal courts. Why? As a district judge for Southern Indiana, Hamilton had made the outrageous, unforgivable ruling that government shouldn’t declare itself subject to a Christian God and the Christian religion. Most reasonable, constitution-abiding people would agree government declarations of subservience to Christianity are inappropriate; Inhofe thinks anything but government subservience to Christianity is inappropriate. The news media love a controversy, Inhofe loves the cameras, and so a news story is born.
Look closer, and you can see someone standing in James Inhofe’s shadow over in the lower-right corner of the video screen. His name is Gordon Klingenschmitt, a man whose name you might have heard before. A few years back, the former Navy Chaplain was drummed out of military service with a dishonorable discharge for directly violating the orders of his superior — and Navy Regulations, both of which required that Klingenschmitt refrain from wearing his uniform when participating in political demonstrations. This is a standard rule of military conduct that Klingenschmitt refused to obey, showing up repeatedly on stage in uniform at political demonstrations to impose the Ten Commandments on American government.
Captain Norm Holcomb (a conservative Christian, by the way), explains Klingenschmitt’s dishonorable discharge in other terms:
I was the dishonored ex-chaplain’s supervisor for the past 2 years. I found him to be totally untruthful, unethical and insubordinate. He was and is contemptuous of all authority. He was not court martialed for praying in Jesus’ name. I sent him out in uniform every week to pray at various ceremonies and functions. He always prayed in uniform and in Jesus’ name. He was never told that he could not pray in Jesus’ name. In fact, the issue of prayer had nothing at all to do with his dismissal from the Navy. He disobeyed the lawful order of a senior officer. I am sure that you understand that Navy Regulations forbid any of us, regardless of rank or position, to appear in uniform in support of any political or partisan event.
… He appeared in direct support of a political event, demonstrating contempt for the order of his Commanding Officer and Naval Regulations that we all swear that we will abide by…. The ex-chaplain is a man without honor and you have accepted his story and in doing so you have had “the wool pulled over your eyes.”
For his dishonorable discharge, Gordon Klingenschmitt has declared that he is the object of religious persecution. He has become quite the star on the fundamentalist Christian circuit, and now he is milking the swollen udder of his niche stardom and fundamentalist outrage for money.
At his website, prayinjesusname.org, Klingenschmitt declares his outrage in various colors of bold face text. Here’s a sampler:
Heroic Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) just vowed to filibuster federal Judge David Hamilton, the bad judge who issued controversial rulings…. Sen. Inhofe agrees we should stop Hamilton’s nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that reversed his liberal, activist, aggressive decisions for many years.
…We’ve already sent thousands of faxes to the full Senate, and we’re getting results! On April 1st, Senator Orrin Hatch led all Republicans to walk out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in protest against the Democrat “rush job” to confirm Judge Hamilton. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said he was troubled by Hamilton’s ruling against a sectarian prayer to open the Indiana House of Representatives. Even Senator Arlen Specter expressed concern. But will they vote unanimously against Hamilton?
…But remember, 100 emails = 10 phone calls = 1 fax in political capital, since the Senate staffers must handle each paper and usually write a reply. So please join our automated fax-petition campaign first. Then please forward this site to your Indiana-Illinois-Wisconsin friends, and to all pastors in all 50 states, and select here to download a church flyer that pastors can copy and distribute.
The paragraphs go on and on, full of outrage, but all directing readers to two courses of action:
1) Linking to Gordon Klingenschmitt’s web page and sending out e-mails asking friends to visit Gordon Klingenschmitt’s web page;
2) Paying Gordon Klingenschmitt $29 to “Fax Your Petition to to ALL 100 Senators” — a petition urging the rejection of David Hamilton. Is a $29 payment too big for your budget? Don’t worry! For just $15, you can “Fax Your Petition to ALL 19 Senators on the Judiciary Committee.”
Don’t think that Gordon Klingenschmitt is standing there personally at the fax machine clicking “send.” Don’t even think that any human is even sending these faxes. Klingenschmitt has subcontracted out to a corporation that uses computers to send “fax broadcasts” to Senators; the charge from these corporations for sending these fax broadcasts ranges from only 1.9 to 4.5 pennies per page. For 19 Senators, that’s at most $1.30, but Klingenschmitt charges $15. For 100 Senators, that’s at most $4.50, but Klingenschmitt charges $29.
Is Klingenschmitt is really sending “thousands” of these faxes, as he claims he is? Is he really going to continue to get people to pay these high rates for his subcontractor to send more of them? I don’t know whether these claims are true. But if they are, then Gordon Klingenschmitt will soon be a very rich man, successfully skimming off the outrage of his fundamentalist followers.