PHILADELPHIA – On the eve of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, conservatives rallied in defense of religious liberty and in favor of reforming the federal courts.
"Justice Sunday III" was held in the state where Alito, generally supported by conservatives, sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Senate Republican, told the gathering that liberal judges are "destroying traditional morality, creating a new moral code and prohibiting any dissent."
"The only way to restore this republic our founders envisioned is to elevate honorable jurists like Samuel Alito," Santorum said. "Unfortunately, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem poised to drag these hearings into the gutter, so they can continue their far left judicial activism on the Supreme Court."
Some liberals fear Alito is too conservative and could undermine abortion rights, a pivotal issue before the high court.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson also attended the gathering at Greater Exodus Baptist Church.
Across the street, about 150 protesters held signs and chanted. Organizers, including AIDS activists and abortion rights supporters, maintain that sponsors of "Justice Sunday" back a dangerous mixing of church and state and an agenda that threatens civil rights.
"Real justice does not tolerate hatred. Real justice is not about inequality. Real justice is about diversity," the Rev. Jeffery H. Jordan, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia, told the cheering crowd.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which organized "Justice Sunday III," said it wasn't about creating a theocracy. Instead, he said it was a response to rulings like the 5-4 Supreme Court decision prohibiting a display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky, and a federal judge's declaration that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional.
"The demand by judges that a Christian check his or her faith at the door before entering the public realm is a tyrannical use of judicial power and it must cease," Perkins said before the event.
Thousands attended the first two "Justice Sunday" events last year in Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., which took place before a threatened filibuster showdown in the Senate and the confirmation hearings for now-Chief Justice John Roberts.
The pastor at the home of "Justice Sunday III," the Rev. Herbert Lusck, drew the ire of separation-of-church-and-state activists when he endorsed President Bush from the pulpit during the 2000 Republican National Convention. The church's charitable arm was awarded nearly $1 million in federal money in 2002 to help low-income Philadelphians with mortgages, and Bush spoke at the church in 2004.