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Overshadowed by Tea Party Movement, the Christian Right Scrambles to Claim It Isn't Racist

The Tea Party movement has the juice as the religious right is on the wane. Survival may mean joining up, but that presents an image problem for Christians.

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But for a governor, Perry seemed to say, it was personal. "I don't care if you're the Democratic governor of New York, or you're the Republican governor of Mississippi," he said, "You want people in Washington, D.C., tellin' you how to run your state? And I think not. They historically use our money as the bait to get states to do their bidding, and my instinct here is that there are a lot of people starting to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We're not sure that the squeeze here is worth the juice anymore.' "

Beyond the bloody history of the Tenth Amendment as a justification for slavery, constitutional fundamentalism holds another conundrum for its believers, if they truly wish to be not to be seen as racially prejudiced.

The U.S. Constitution counted each slave as only three-fifths of a person when apportioning by population the House of Representatives. This was corrected, of course, by the 14th Amendment, which, coming after the Bill of Rights, is not part of what religious right Constitution buffs hold to be the divinely derived constitutional document.

We Are Not Racists: A Primer on How Not to Behave

In the religious right, racism is, more often than not, presented in code. In the Tea Party movement, it's often in your face.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is a master of the coded speech. In Florida two years ago, I saw him address a crowd gathered for a conference called "Reclaim America for Christ," in which he lauded the actions of Phineas, grandson of Noah, whom the Bible tells us slew a newly married couple because the man had married outside his tribe. (Phineas ran them through with a javelin.)

The Phineas story has long been used to justify bans on the mixing of races, and one white-supremacist organization takes as its name the Phineas Priesthood.

Roy Blunt's address to the Values Voter summit, with its story of monkeys throwing golf balls at British soldiers -- the monkeys standing in for Obama and the Democrats, while the Brits represent the beleaguered Republicans -- is also in keeping with the religious right style of race code.

So, too, is the model used the next day by Bill Bennett, the former secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, who came before the Values Voters to hawk his history textbook for grade-schoolers. (Lots of home-schoolers in that crowd.) In that model, a single African American is held up as a laudatory figure, then used as a bludgeon with which to beat the rest. Bennett chose the figure of Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist and suffragist.

"I don't know why more of the African American leadership doesn't talk about Frederick Douglass," Bennett said. "Probably because of his deep devotion to Lincoln, and his deep devotion to this country ..." You mean, you didn't know that black people today hate Abraham Lincoln and the United States of America?

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a contender for the 2012 presidential nomination, was quick, as a Republican, to claim the Lincoln legacy and to assert that the cause of "freedom, free markets and traditional moral values" is a message that the Values Voters must take "to every community in this nation, regardless of race, color or creed." Then he offered a quote from the founder of the Republican Party.

"Lincoln said, 'There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence...' " In other words, Pence seemed to be saying, the Values Voters had it in their mission to liberate "the Negro" once again -- this time from his own misguided leaders.