One of Ashcroft's most profound changes was to the Civil Rights Division, launched in 1957 to file cases on behalf of African-Americans and women. Under Ashcroft, career lawyers were systematically fired or forced out and replaced by members of conservative or Christian groups or folks with no civil rights experience. In the five years after 2001, the civil rights division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans. It brought one employment case on behalf of an African-American. Instead, the division took up the "civil rights" abuses of reverse discrimination—claims of voter fraud or discrimination against Christians. On Feb. 20, Gonzales announced a new initiative called the First Freedom Project to carry out "even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans." In his view, the fight for a student's right to read a Bible at school is as urgent a civil rights problem as the right to vote.
We may agree or disagree on that proposition, but it certainly explains how Goodling came to confuse working to advance Gonzales' agenda with working to advance God's. But while God may well want more prayer in the public schools, it's not clear He wanted David Iglesias fired on a pretext. In an excellent 2005 article about Regent in the American Prospect Online, Christopher Hayes points out that more than two-thirds of the students at Regent identified as Republicans, and only 9 percent identified as Democrats. As he concludes, "what students are taught at a place like Regent, or even Calvin and Wheaton, is to live out a Christ-centered existence in all facets of their lives. But what they learn is to become Republicans."
Is there anything wrong with legal scholarship from a Christian perspective? Not that I see. Is there anything wrong with a Bush administration that disproportionately uses graduates from such Christian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It's a shorthand, not better or worse than cherry-picking the Federalist Society or the bar association. I can't even get exercised over the fact that Gonzales, Rove, and Miers had their baby lawyers making critical staffing decisions for them. The baby lawyers had extremely clear marching orders.
No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with the president's. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square, and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was, in the end, only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.
At the end of the day, Goodling and the other young foot soldiers for God may simply have run afoul of the first rule of politics, codified in Psalm 146: "Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals in whom there is no help."
A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.