A former leader of a religious right activist group recently admitted on a podcast that the language that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito used in his damning majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade mirrored rhetoric the Christian group has been pushing on Supreme Court justices for decades.
Rev. Rob Schenck recently appeared on an episode of the State of Belief podcast to discuss his efforts as a former member of the group Faith and Action to, essentially, sway justices’ views on social issues through prayer sessions. The interview is from earlier this month, but Politico surfaced it here. It’s worth a listen if you want to get a better understanding of how these unofficial evangelical lobbying-via-prayer efforts work, but it reinforces a theme we covered earlier this summer when an official at the evangelical organization, Liberty Counsel, was caught on a hot mic bragging about secretly praying with Supreme Court justices.
In the Liberty Counsel situation, Peggy Nienaber, who is an executive director there, was heard claiming at an event celebrating Roe’s overturning that she and others associated with Liberty Counsel routinely go into the Supreme Court building to pray with justices. She claimed that her most recent prayer gathering with members of the high court had taken place as recently as the Monday after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
The Nienaber situation presents a specific conflict of interest not only because Liberty Counsel routinely brings cases before the Supreme Court, but conservative justices even pointed to the group’s amicus brief as it struck down Roe. But more broadly, Schenck’s remarks on the podcast speak to the strategic campaign brought by evangelical and far-right Christian groups over the last several decades to get Roe overturned. In some ways, it’s another layer of the Southern Strategy and Republicans efforts to wed white evangelical voters to the Republican Party, primarily through supporting anti-abortion (aka “pro-life”) causes and policy platforms.
“I can say with a certain level of certainty I don’t think we would have gotten the decision as it is worded from Justice Alito without the work we did,” said Schenck, who was in charge of Faith and Action (now called Faith & Liberty) for almost 20 years.
Faith and Action is an activist organization that has worked for some time to unofficially try to get the ears of various SCOTUS justices, often under the guise of prayer sessions, to embolden them to be supportive of socially conservative causes. Here’s how he described the group’s tactics:
“We were careful,” he said. “You had to observe boundaries with the justices always and even in your language. So, for example, it would be a big no-no to pray something like: ‘Lord, we pray that same sex marriage will never be legalized in America.’ That, that would be too forward. It would be everything from boorish to a technical violation of their quasi-ethical rules.”
Instead the group members would say something like: “Lord, we thank you that justice so-and-so is on the bench when we must defend the sanctity of marriage and the family,” he said.
Schenck said he eventually left the group because of the its approach to influencing justices and its stance on guns. But he said in reading Alito’s opinion in the Dobbs case, he recognized some of the language and broader argument as rhetoric similar to what his group pushed for years.
“It was a polemic from our side of the movement, which startled me, took my breath away,” he said. “He was using phrases we had invented as bumper sticker slogans in a Supreme Court decision. It was breathtaking to me.”
The news comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Supreme Court justices’ various conflicts of interest, primarily due to Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife’s role in helping Trump and his allies try to overturn the 2020 election.
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