With tonight’s overstuffed Republican debate approaching, this week’s throwback is a Max Blumenthal piece from our October 2003 issue about the National Clergy Council, a little-known but influential religious conservative advocacy organization, and its leader the Reverend Rob Schenck.

The group found success in the Bush years, lobbying members of Congress, organizing rallies, and calling (fruitlessly in hindsight) for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Blumenthal writes:

The National Clergy Council has nothing like the Beltway muscle of, say, James Dobson’s Family Research Council. But its members lead a particularly vocal and energized minority among religious conservatives: those who favor the substitution of Biblical literalism for civil law. Fittingly, the most visible manifestation of Schenck’s influence are the small, polished stone plaques, inscribed with the Ten Commandments, that he has distributed to more than 400 politicians in Washington and across the country. They include Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas)–“His response was extremely positive”–Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Bush’s “Ambassador for Religious Liberty,” John V. Hanford, who hand-delivered Schenck’s plaque to the president. Schenck asks those who accept the plaque to “display it and obey it,” suggesting that in their acceptance, they pledge to work toward a government rooted in Mosaic moral law and “Judeo-Christian ethics.” And with so many lawmakers already displaying their plaques, Schenck is optimistic that as his new movement increases its activity and gathers support, his influence in Washington will help release a wave of Christian fervor upon the seats of power nationwide. “We have the president, both leaders of Congress, Hastert and Delay, all of whom share what I would call an orthodox Christian worldview. All of them display the Ten Commandments,” he told me. “That’s something we dare not take lightly.”

You can read the entire piece here.

Matt Connolly

Matt Connolly works for a labor union in Washington, D.C. Previously he was an editor at the Washington Monthly.