You can't say we couldn't see it coming. In 1994 the Rev. Joseph Chambers of Charlotte, N.C., tried to get Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie banned under under an anti-gay state law that existed at the time. The Pentecostal minister said he knew the puppets were gay because in one episode Bert taught Ernie to sew.
A few years later the Rev. Jerry Falwell attacked Tinky Winky, the sweet-natured Teletubby on the children's TV show because Falwell claimed he was modeling the gay lifestyle.
Now James Dobson of the religiously conservative group Focus on the Family is accusing the producers of a music video for children, intended to promote social tolerance and featuring scores of beloved children's show characters, of promoting homosexuality.
Why? Because it shows SpongeBob SquarePants holding hands with his pal, a starfish.
That's scandalous behavior if I ever saw it, although I wonder if Dobson's real concern is over SpongeBob's sexual preference or whether he's a contraceptive device. It's too silly, and the affair makes Dobson look ridiculous. Yet while we laugh at this latest example of overreaching by Christian conservatives, it doesn't mean we shouldn't take them seriously. They often see insidious plots in the most innocuous aspects of popular culture. Now they're emboldened by support from the Bush administration, and are claiming credit for his re-election. While flexing their muscles in the past sometimes felt like a joke, now it could have serious consequences.
This week a coalition of conservative Christian groups threatened to withhold their support for the president's plan to remake Social Security if he doesn't move ahead with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Not even the Republican-controlled Senate feels the need to push this right now, but the religious right is demanding action.
Attacking a beloved cartoon character shows just how crazy religious conservatives can be. They're especially obsessed with sexual matters, such as reproductive issues and homosexuality. And who would have guessed that in 2005 we'd be debating whether to teach creationism in public schools? Yet the subject has flared up again in several states.
The scariest thing about the emboldened Christian conservatives, however, is that these are the people to whom George W. Bush promised a new Supreme Court - one modeled on the ultra-conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. A few years back Rev. Falwell led a prayer campaign for a new Supreme Court, and with President Bush poised to appoint several new justices in the next four years, the SpongeBob and Tinky Winky haters are close to winning.
The People for the American Way, a progressive political advocacy group, estimates that if James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and others on the religious right get their conservative majority on the Court, more than 100 judicial precedents risk being overturned, turning the clock back for decades on civil rights, the environment, reproductive rights, affirmative action, employees rights, and a host of other issues.
So far only filibusters by Democrats in the Senate have kept a handful of Bush's most regressive judicial nominees from being confirmed. But the president and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist want to eliminate the use of filibusters for judicial nominations. If they succeed, the president will need only a bare majority of votes to name anyone he wants to the Court.
Can this be prevented? Only if Americans from both parties loudly protest such a move. People need to realize that all religions are threatened when the government is partial to one. And pandering to the wishes of Christian conservatives means that many of the basic rights and freedoms that we take for granted could be lost.
It's SpongeBob who's getting squeezed today. But who will it be tomorrow?
© 2005 Newsday, Inc.