Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Anatomy of a Right Wing Lie

If you pay attention to right wing smears, you might well have heard this meme that is flying around the blogosphere. It was most prominently repeated by Newt Gingrich in a recent interview:

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 okay. 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.

First of all, Judge Hamilton is a man. The fact that his first name is David might have been a clue. But far more importantly, the substance of the claim is a baldfaced lie. That lie seems to have started with Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition, which first published it about a month ago. From there it has taken off and can be found on thousands of blogs and right wing websites.

The case they are referring to is Hinrichs v Bosma, which Hamilton presided over in 2005. It was a challenge to the Indiana state legislature opening its sessions with sectarian prayer and Hamilton struck down the practice (his ruling was later overturned by the appeals court on standing grounds). You can see his ruling here.

So did Hamilton really say in this ruling that it was okay to give a prayer in the name of Allah but not in the name of Jesus Christ? Nope. In fact, he said the exact opposite:

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.

He says the exact opposite of what they claim he said. He says clearly that the same standard would apply to a Jewish or Muslim prayer. And incidentally, one of the precedents he cites in this opinion comes from the eminent conservative appeals court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, who has long been on the short list for any Supreme Court nomination by a Republican president.

This is a perfect example of the old truism that a lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its shoes on. Make the claim and it gets immediately picked up in the right wing echo chamber and those who told the lie can safely assume that almost no one is going to actually look up the ruling and see what it says.

There’s another lie in the TVC statement about Hamilton as well:

This lawyer is so radical that the liberal ABA rated him as “not qualified” when Bill Clinton nominated him for a district court post in 1994.

As I explained here, having read the ABA’s documents about Hamilton in 1994, the only reason the ABA rated him as not qualifed in 1994 was because they felt he didn’t have enough experience. Their standard at the time was that a nominee should have been members of the state bar for at least 12 years prior to a judicial nomination and Hamilton only had 9 years in the bar.