- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

Religious rhetoric is not playing a role in this election cycle the way it did in the 2000 presidential race, but activists are gearing up to make sure religion is not irrelevant.
The Christian Coalition opens its annual "Road to Victory Conference" here Friday, promising to use millions of voter guides to spur swing voters and stir alarm over the Supreme Court decision allowing computer-generated child pornography.
"The only possible remedy is to place God-fearing men and women in the Senate who" confirm judicial appointments, coalition President Roberta Combs said in a letter promoting the event.
She said the coalition's "influence with the administration is stronger than at any time in our 12-year history."
Last week, the more liberal religious activists declared a victory when the House defeated, in a 239-178 vote, a bill allowing clergy to endorse candidates. Political endorsements have been illegal for tax-exempt groups since 1954.
The Republican sponsors and conservative pro-family backers of the bill said they will introduce it again next year, while liberals say it would turn houses of worship into "smoke-filled rooms" for political parties.
To clarify the Internal Revenue Service restrictions on churches and politics, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an educational group, issued a guide stating, "Significant confusion remains about the rules governing political activity by religious organizations."
Last week, the forum held a conference here featuring a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican talking about how religious convictions relate to policy-making.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said that while his Roman Catholic faith influences his judgments, he makes public policy arguments on the basis of principles supporting "the common good."
When he takes a pro-life stance or opposes the death penalty, Mr. Cuomo said, it is driven by practical and humanitarian concerns, "not just because my bishops say it's wrong."
Despite this need to make secular policy arguments, he said, a politician's religious convictions "enrich instead of inhibit public service."
Rep. Mark Souder, an evangelical and Indiana Republican, said that while conservative Protestants are not the monolithic force that critics claim, they do feel "an obligation to change things" based on faith convictions.
"We will not, and it is unfair to ask us to, check our religious views at the door," Mr. Souder said. "It's not going to happen."
He and Mr. Cuomo disagreed on whether values are best promoted by secular federal policies or by limiting federal intervention so diverse religious traditions can express themselves.
"I don't believe there is a common denominator [of values] in the American political system," Mr. Souder said. Public schools don't adjust to religious families, he said, while courts protect pornography, but not religious speech.
Mr. Cuomo said both Jewish and Christian belief have commandments to respect others and improve society. "Why don't we concentrate on the two things we all believe in?" he said.
Religious activists also are taking sides on campaign-finance reform.
The more liberal Interfaith Alliance said restricting money in politics is "a faith issue" because it would "ensure that persons and groups with extraordinary wealth do not continue to have undue influence in our elections."
Religious conservatives oppose the reform, saying it would stifle grass-roots political speech on moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality.


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