In 1981, Gary North, a leader of the Christian Reconstructionist movement — the openly theocratic wing of the Christian right — suggested that the movement could achieve power by stealth. "Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure," he wrote, "and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order."
Today, Regent University, founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson to provide "Christian leadership to change the world," boasts that it has 150 graduates working in the Bush administration.
Unfortunately for the image of the school, where Mr. Robertson is chancellor and president, the most famous of those graduates is Monica Goodling, a product of the university's law school. She's the former top aide to Alberto Gonzales who appears central to the scandal of the fired U.S. attorneys and has declared that she will take the Fifth rather than testify to Congress on the matter.
The infiltration of the federal government by large numbers of people seeking to impose a religious agenda — which is very different from simply being people of faith — is one of the most important stories of the last six years. It's also a story that tends to go underreported, perhaps because journalists are afraid of sounding like conspiracy theorists.
But this conspiracy is no theory. The official platform of the Texas Republican Party pledges to "dispel the myth of the separation of church and state." And the Texas Republicans now running the country are doing their best to fulfill that pledge.
Kay Cole James, who had extensive connections to the religious right and was the dean of Regent's government school, was the federal government's chief personnel officer from 2001 to 2005. (Curious fact: she then took a job with Mitchell Wade, the businessman who bribed Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham.) And it's clear that unqualified people were hired throughout the administration because of their religious connections.
For example, The Boston Globe reports on one Regent law school graduate who was interviewed by the Justice Department's civil rights division. Asked what Supreme Court decision of the past 20 years he most disagreed with, he named the decision to strike down a Texas anti-sodomy law. When he was hired, it was his only job offer.
Or consider George Deutsch, the presidential appointee at NASA who told a Web site designer to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, to leave open the possibility of "intelligent design by a creator." He turned out not to have, as he claimed, a degree from Texas A&M.
One measure of just how many Bushies were appointed to promote a religious agenda is how often a Christian right connection surfaces when we learn about a Bush administration scandal.
There's Ms. Goodling, of course. But did you know that Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota — three of whose deputies recently stepped down, reportedly in protest over her management style — is, according to a local news report, in the habit of quoting Bible verses in the office?
Or there's the case of Claude Allen, the presidential aide and former deputy secretary of health and human services, who stepped down after being investigated for petty theft. Most press reports, though they mentioned Mr. Allen's faith, failed to convey the fact that he built his career as a man of the hard-line Christian right.
And there's another thing most reporting fails to convey: the sheer extremism of these people.
You see, Regent isn't a religious university the way Loyola or Yeshiva are religious universities. It's run by someone whose first reaction to 9/11 was to brand it God's punishment for America's sins.
Two days after the terrorist attacks, Mr. Robertson held a conversation with Jerry Falwell on Mr. Robertson's TV show "The 700 Club." Mr. Falwell laid blame for the attack at the feet of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians," not to mention the A.C.L.U. and People for the American Way. "Well, I totally concur," said Mr. Robertson.
The Bush administration's implosion clearly represents a setback for the Christian right's strategy of infiltration. But it would be wildly premature to declare the danger over. This is a movement that has shown great resilience over the years. It will surely find new champions.
Next week Rudy Giuliani will be speaking at Regent's Executive Leadership Series.
Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a regular New York Times columnist.
© 2007 The New York Times