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..,:Awtp:qmt IKE* gym ogiONNOM Robert L. Knudsen Tom Delay: Whipping ‘Em. Up at Bible Way Bible Way Temple is a cavernous stone structure, with a patchwork of unmatched linoleum, creaky pews, and a jerry-rigged sound system supporting synthesizers, guitars, drums, ricane Floyd threatened the nation’s capital in early September, the sanctuary in Northwest Washington was filled with fervid believers swaying, cheering, praying, and screaming for Texas Congressmen Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. Joining the two Texans at the altar were Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook Jr. and William Murray the wayward son of Madelyn Murray O’Hair and currently the leader of something called the Religious Freedom Coalition. The crowd of children and retirees, high schoolers in matching t-shirts, and middle-aged African-American preachers must have reminded the Texas congressmen that they had ventured much farther into the real D.C. than they normally dare. At mid-stage sat a cluster of black preachers and one slight Hispanic woman. To the far right, in a row of folding chairs, the guests of honor sat rigidly, legs crossed, smiles fixed. On the left, behind a large and mysterious stack of cardboard boxes, sat a group of high school students. As latecomers recruited for the occasion scrambled from their buses to look for seats, synthesized organ tones swelled, ten gospel choirs began to sing, and a preacher began to roar into the microphone. Wandering about were a few bewildered members of the secular and Christian press. If it sounds surreal, it was. The ten gospel choirs were intended as an entre to the national evening newscasts of a sanctified press conference whose “news” was the perennial re-introduction of Representative Istook’s “Religious Freedom Amendment” which promises constitutional protection for prayer in public schools. The event was moved indoors after Hurricane Floyd turned northeast and the only suitable Capitol venue was already booked by the Congressional Black Caucus. Bible Way was so far from official D.C. that Armey and DeLay’s offices were uncer tain of the venue and the press was frus trated by the weather and the directions. The few rain-soaked reporters who found their way to the church stood to the side of the stage in front of the pile of cardboard boxes. Because no one out of the direct line of the speakers could understand anything said on stage, it was not an ideal press pit. With little else to do, a couple of newsmen poked at the pyramid of boxes behind them. Wrapped in white butcher paper, embossed with elliptical hands-clasped-in-prayer superimposed on a billowing American flag, the boxes bore large labels: “FAMILY,” “FAITH,” “FREEDOM,” “PRAYER,” and so on. Although the boxes were described as containing “two million petitions” in favor of school prayer, the reporters poking around the boxes revealed the sacred arks were empty vessels. It got weirder. William Murray’s speech was so awkward and flat that even this hair-trigger Amen crowd sat on its hands. \(The more fortunate members of the crowd didn’t understand Murray’s because his speech was brief and punctuated by a mantra-like repetition of the word “babies”: “They will not let our babies pray, when all we want for our babies is a better, more godly world for our babies, so that our babies will be safe, and our dreams for our babies’ lives will come true.” Armey got a lot of mileage out of babies, although in a spirit of ecumenism he might have thrown in the occasional los nitios. Armey was quickly upstaged by a Hispanic lady preacher reciting a godly version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” In this rendition, Mary wasn’t allowed to bring the Lamb to school, and there began society’s problems. If the Lamb were at school, the preacher rhapsodized, there would be no guns, no drugs, no sex, no family problems…. Thoroughly warmed up, she shifted into Spanish, enthusiastically describing Torn DeLay: “imuy importante!” And his relationship to God: “imuy importante!” Her ecstatic sprit grew, as did her arm-waving and headrolling until she abruptly stopped, turned to DeLay, and in a loud, clear, extended cry shouted: “i t’s Wheeep!” This she punctuated with a violent karate-chop impersonation of a cracking whip. It was a unique introduction, but Majority Whip DeLay began his speech, with Juana-the-Baptist translating his flat decla mations into enthusiastic hand-waving and head-bobbing. “The Devil sent the rain to put a damper on our rally today,” DeLay said, causing a member of the congregation to sway uncontrollably, her mouth open, tongue extended, eyes rolled back, completely absorbed in the spirit. “God is not welcome in our secularized schools,” DeLay said. “But everything opposed to God is welcome.” Invoking the Devil lifted one woman to another level, but for the most part Delay Dick Armey: Save the Babies and Istook spoke as if they were at a suburban country club, and not even the odd pantomime of the bilingual preacher could add punch to their tired soundbites. “In the battle for our culture,” DeLay piously intoned, “we all need to understand you cannot just stand up for America, you must kneel down for America.” Now that was news, from the man most responsible for Congress’ impeachment of Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But no one from the capital press was present at Bible Way Temple to hear the word. + 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 15, 1999